Deerfield High School: Building a Collaborative Culture for Success
At Deerfield High School in suburban Chicago, Athletic Director Robert Ruiz has faced the challenges of being a small school amidst suburban giants — and he’s found some keys to success in his nine years as AD, too.
“For a small school, we’re as competitive as most 2,500-4,200-student schools,” Ruiz says. “We win our fair share of conference titles, regional, sectional, and state competitions too.”
Some of Deerfield’s recent athletic achievements include 4th place at the 2016 team state wrestling championships, a 2016 individual men’s tennis championship and team 3rd place, runner-up at the 2016 women’s soccer state championship, and many other individual state qualifiers. Every year, Deerfield contends for conference, regional, and sectional titles in most sports.
These are no small feats; at just 1,646 students, Deerfield is sometimes less than half the size of their competitors
So how do they stay competitive? “Our coaches get the absolute most out of kids,” Ruiz says. “They take whatever talent and skills show up on day one and start building from there. Most kids play other sports, so we take good athletes, help them develop skills, and then figure out a way to build a cohesive team.”
With limited means, Ruiz believes it’s best to lean on the coaches, as they have a wealth of knowledge in their sports and can find a way to bridge the gap between programs. He emphasizes that it’s about having the right resources, not necessarily the most. “The common denominator there is that the coaches really understand kids. They know how to get the most out of them and how to genuinely let them know they are cared for,” Ruiz says.
Ruiz does his best to create a community-first culture. Coaches are encouraged to work together in order to create a well-rounded, competitive program. “It isn’t all about having a kid who’s just simply a basketball guy,” Ruiz says. “If he’s 6-foot-5, he’d make a pretty good high jumper and even a volleyball player, and we expect coaches to help make those connections.”
Academics and Athletics
Collaborative culture at Deerfield isn’t limited to sports. Ruiz sees academics and athletics as complementary — each one benefiting from the other. Deerfield’s reputation for academic excellence is tied to their athletic success.
“We’re always in that really high percentage,” Ruiz says of Deerfield’s academic achievements. He believes that many lessons from the classroom translate to the field. “The kids understand that they have to put in the hours. They’ve got to have a certain kind of work ethic if they want to see results.”
But it’s not a one-way street. Ruiz thinks athletics let students do something very important on a daily basis: fail.
“In athletics, you have a lot of chances to fail every single day. We encourage athletes to take risks and to fail, because that becomes a learning opportunity. In the classroom, it’s a little different.”
“Those quick lessons give kids the chance to benefit and grow from the immediate feedback. It also gives them a chance to see what’s possible when they expand their efforts.”
Partering with Eastbay
As with the rest of Deerfield athletics, when it comes to their partnership with Eastbay, cooperation is key.
Ruiz says Eastbay’s Team Sales reps work with the school to make unique partnerships happen. “The cool part is that nothing is off the table,” Ruiz says. “I think our society needs more of this, where people go, ‘That’s a great idea, how can we do it?’ That’s a great attitude and that’s one thing I love about working with Eastbay.”
He emphasizes that Eastbay is there to help. “This is our second year with Eastbay and I can tell you that our partnership with them has been outstanding,” Ruiz says. “We get great customer service. Our coaches get what they need, our teams look really sharp, and it all happens in a very timely fashion.”