Joe Schneider has been involved in sports his entire life. He played football and was on the track and field team in high school at Wausau West, then at UW-Whitewater he was a thrower on the track and field team — garnering national recognition in the process.
And after his college career ended he transitioned into coaching, first for the throwers at Whitewater High School for a year as a fifth-year college senior and then in football and for the throwers as a teacher at Columbus High School.
His next tour of the sporting landscape will be considerably broader in scope — although at the moment, there’s a singular focus.
Schneider was hired by the Columbus School Board at its regular meeting on July 13 as the high school’s new activities director, an umbrella role that includes athletics as well as all other extracurriculars. He started on Monday, July 20, right in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and no sooner did he punch in to start his first day on the job was he — like athletic directors and school administrators all across the state — confronted with the task of trying to figure out how to safely proceed with fall sports.
The WIAA Board of Control voted last Thursday at a special meeting to push back the start of the fall season, with practice for “low-risk” sports girls golf, girls swimming and diving, girls tennis and boys and girls cross country slated to begin Aug. 17 and “high risk” sports football, boys soccer and girls volleyball slated to start on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7.
Other than that, Schneider said Columbus is “working towards getting our kids back to activities.”
What that model ultimately looks like remains to be seen, but however it turns out, Schneider will be the one in charge.
He’s no stranger to the community, either, as this will be his 10th year as an employee of the district. He was hired as a business teacher in 2011 and did that for 9 years before transitioning into an instructional coach role for technology on March 2, two weeks prior to the district switching to virtual learning when the pandemic hit.
“So I’m someone who’s been very invested in this community, very invested in the staff and very invested in the athletics and co-curriculars that we have here,” he said of his initial interest in applying for the activities director job, which also includes overseeing athletics and extracurriculars at the middle shool. “That’s part of it, is always looking for more ways to have a bigger impact when it comes to this community and this district.”
Columbus is happy to have him in his new role, too.
“He has always been viewed as a leader by his peers,” said Columbus High School principal Jon Rouse. “He has a tremendous amount of knowledge of Capitol Conference athletics, as well as knowledge of instructional best practices in the classroom. It was clear throughout the interview process that his experience with and passion for Columbus made him the right fit.
“He also has a calm, steady demeanor that will help him transition to this new role. We are very excited to have him join the administrative team in Columbus.”
Schneider takes over for Terri Schumacher, who retired when the 2019-20 school year ended on June 30 after six years as the high school’s athletic director and dean of students. The job description then changed, and in addition to his title as activities director at the high school and middle school, Schneider is also an assistant principle at the high school.
He’s excited about his new role.
“We’ve had a lot of great coaches here, and still have a lot of great coaches, who have been the driving force of success,” he said. “As far as my overarching goals, it’s number one, making sure that they’re all in a place that they’re able to facilitate the best experience possible from the athletic standpoint for all our students that are coming through.
“As far as an overarching program, I think it’s pretty obvious that we need to make sure that the skills that we’re developing in our kids are going beyond the field and beyond the court — that we are doing everything that we can in order to create better leaders in society. That’s every single kid that comes through the athletic program — that’s ultimately my goal for the athletic program, is that we have a consistent, coherent leadership curriculum developed within it so that when kids leave, they’re leaving with tangible leadership skills that they can use beyond whatever athletic endeavor they choose.”
Schneider is a 2006 graduate of Wausau West, where he was a center on the offensive line and a defensive end on the d-line for the football team. In the spring, he participated in track and field, ultimately paving the way for his throwing career at UW-Whitewater, where he was a provisional national qualifier — one level away from being an automatic national qualifier — in the shot put and weight throw.
At Columbus High School, he was an assistant football coach from 2011 until 2017 and an assistant track and field coach, working with the throwers, for his entire career. In 2017, he helped guide Josh Seltzner — now an offensive lineman for the University of Wisconsin football team — to the Division 2 state championship in the shot put.
“Josh is the most gifted athlete I have ever been around in my life — Josh had a lot to do with that,” Schneider said.
The conditions surrounding the pandemic were different in May and June when Schneider first contemplated, and then applied for, the job — “I don’t think anyone knew quite the circumstances that we would be in right now; June had a very different feel about it as far as schools and everything, and the future of things, than last week,” he said — but had he known then the challenges he’d be facing now, he said it wouldn’t have changed his mind.
“It would have not been a deterrent. It wouldn’t have impacted my interest in the position,” he said
One of his first orders of business will be to hire a new girls basketball coach following the resignation of Tim Dworak last spring. But that job isn’t posted as of yet, and it might be a bit before it moves off the backburner.
“The big agenda item right now,” Schneider reiterated, “is getting activities going safely.”
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