By Maddie Lee
D’Wayne Bates was a part of the Chicago Bears’ 2001 NFC Central championship, Northwestern University’s 1995 and 1996 Big Ten championships, and two South Carolina high school state championships. But when he looked back on his life at age 29, he was worried that for the past 23 years all he had done was football.
“[The NFL] is just a career pause before you do what you’re meant to do later on,” he said.
Bates was meant to work in education.
In the decade or so since Bates retired from the NFL, he has climbed from coach and teacher to athletic director. He left his AD position at LaSalle-Peru Township High School this summer for a similar position at a school about twice the size, some 85 miles northeast: Glenbard East.
In his first semester in that role, Bates has focused on building rapport with the athletic department by interacting with athletes, coaches and parents as much as possible while carrying out administrative duties.
“His interpersonal skills are a true strength,” Glenbard East volleyball coach Marci Maier wrote in an email. “He is not only learning the culture of our building, but he is also able to add by bringing new ideas or a fresh perspective to the athletic department. He is a breath of fresh air and an asset to our school.”
Bates is Glenbard East’s fifth AD in the past seven years, but Principal Shahe Bagdasarian says the feedback so far from coaches, parents and boosters has been positive.
“He has immersed himself with the community,” Bagdasarian said.
What does Bates’ job look like on a day-to-day basis?
Bates describes it as “organized chaos.”
Bates’ alarm goes off at 5 a.m. every weekday. Tuesday, Nov. 10, is no different. He has followed roughly the same regimen for the past 10 years. He’s sure his body would revolt if it changed.
For breakfast, he has a glass of orange juice and the fruit of the week — today it’s green grapes. He then heads to the high school so he can get in a workout before work.
Bates arrives to play pick-up basketball at 6 a.m. with 12 other GEHS staff members. He played in high school, and he thought it was his best sport.
“I had a lot more scholarship offers in football,” he said. “Had it been basketball, who knows?”
Tuesdays are college days at Glenbard East. After showering, he changes into dress pants and a Northwestern sweatshirt.
Bates’ office is next door to the main athletic office. Lists and schedules cover the wall beside his desk and the cupboards behind it. A large tub of candy sitting on his desk, in plain view from the door, encourages kids to stop by then they have a chance. For candy, they do make time.
The only clues to his football career are a Northwestern helmet pencil holder, a Bears paperweight and a football commemorating his first NFL touchdown.
School starts, and Bates meets with assistant AD Sean Neary and events coordinator Victor Swanson to divide supervision of every home event. Bates also travels to major away games.
Bates says he attends every sport. He feels visibility is key. He wants all the coaches and athletes to feel like their sports are just as important as the next. He sits with parents to hear what they feel about their children’s experiences at GEHS.
“I evaluate the program, I evaluate the coaches,” he says. “It’s not fair for me to give any type of remark or comment if I haven’t been (there) — and not just once or twice.”
When the bell rings, Bates gets up to stand in the hall and greet the students, faculty and staff members that pass. He does this at every bell when he can.
“A lot of it is simply a smile or a hello,” he says. “Could make a kid’s day. You never know what they’re going through.”
Bates high-fives a girls’ basketball player. He wears a red and black wristband with the girls’ basketball team’s motto on it.
“One-one-one,” he says.
One team. One heart. One legacy.
“Shoot, I don’t have mine on,” she says. She stays to chat.
After she leaves, a volleyball player walks by.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
She says about 60 percent.
She suffered a concussion a couple of weeks earlier, according to Bates.
He seems to have all the athletes’ injuries in his head.
He can point out the football player who recently got out of a cast or the girls’ basketball player who broke her foot playing soccer. When he sees her later in the day, he asks if she still can play “HORSE.” Apparently, she beat him the last time they played.
“Fantastic 3-point shooter,” he says.
Neary and director of buildings and grounds Greg Jones come in for a facility-schedule meeting. They tinker with the placement of upcoming competitions, practices and banquets.
At the bell, Bates stands yet again before his door, which displays a poster with his motto for Glenbard East athletics:
“Students first… Victory will happen!”
The motto has evolved from what he preached at LaSalle-Peru. There, it was, “Students first; winning will happen.”
For Bates, “victory” better encompasses what he wants to achieve at GEHS.
“Victory is in life,” he says. “If we can get kids to participate for four years, take care of academics, be a good teammate, be coachable, enjoy this experience and graduate, to me that’s a victory. And that’s bigger than winning.”
He would love to have every student involved in athletics, but he understands it’s not for everyone. Of GEHS’ 2,431 students, Bates says, about 1,400 participate in the 28 sports.
Cheerleading coach Kelly Dolan has been trying to meet with Bates since the previous week, so Bates made time to talk to her now.
Bates says he tries to meet with all his coaches toward the beginning of the week, formally and informally.
Dolan needs to talk about the state bylaw proposals that affect cheerleading. Bates wants to make sure he hears her thoughts before he votes later in the week.
In the end, he says, he has to make decisions from an administrative perspective. So far, he has agreed with his coaches.
“I want [the coaches] to know, ‘I’m on your side, and I’m doing what I can to make sure you have an enjoyable experience,’” he says.
The bell rings, and Bates again stands at the door to greet the sea of students.
Bates’ own high school was much different than GEHS. Bates attended Silver Bluff High in Aiken, South Carolina, which had 816 students when he graduated in 1994, according to schooldigger.com. He grew up in Jackson, South Carolina, which had fewer than 1,700 people in 1990, according to usbeacon.com.
Bates likes to say the whole town could fit in Glenbard East.
As a four-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball and track), Bates says he was too busy to get into any trouble. He let his algebra grades his freshman year slide below passing, and his mom made it wouldn’t happen again.
“I got called into the office,” he says. “It was my mom, the AD and the head [football] coach sitting there. I’m like, ‘Oh this can’t be good,’”
His mom threatened to take him out of football if his grades didn’t improve. He had to go to morning tutoring, and his coach pulled him out of practice for an hour every day until he got his grade up to a B.
He says the algebra issue turned out to be of the best things that happened to him. After that, he dedicated himself to his schoolwork as well as his athletics. A teammate called him “nerd” once, and he says that was the biggest compliment he ever got in high school.
The same algebra teacher who almost failed him, along with his English teacher, helped motivate Bates. They believed in him and his leadership potential.
“In four years of high school, you have an opportunity to really mold a kid,” he says, “and hopefully help them find their passion.”
At GEHS, Bates has turned athletes’ grades into a competition. The trophy cases now display a board listing each team’s combined grade-point average. The team with the highest GPA and the runners-up will get prizes.
Bates likes the way the system is working so far. He says he watched a group of boys’ basketball players stand in front of the board, scanning the numbers. Boys’ basketball had the lowest GPA of any team last year.
According to Bates, the players looked at each other and said, “We’re not going to be last this year.”
A student rushes in saying, “Did you see my grades?”
Bates pulls them up on his computer.
“I’m failing one class,” the student says.
He had brought the rest of his failing grades up to D’s.
“One letter at a time,” Bates says. “Let’s get them up to C’s now.”
Football coach John Walters stops by, and they go over the plan for awards night. The football team has made only one playoff appearance in the school’s history. That was in 1999.
Sophomore tennis player Kolie Allen came the closest this fall to winning a state title for Glenbard East. She finished fifth.
“The pinnacle for an AD is to experience a team winning a state championship,” Bates says later. “Because bigger than that, so many things had to go right to get to that level.”
Boys’ basketball coach Scott Miller calls, then comes to Bates’ office to discuss tryouts.
Bates says he often eats at his desk, fork in one hand, keyboard under the other. Not today. Leftover Hecky’s barbecue calls for his full attention in the athletic office kitchen.
“Best barbecue in the North Shore,” he says.
When he attended Northwestern, Bates says, he and his teammates would get Hecky’s every week.
It was at Northwestern that Bates found his passion for education. The summer before his junior year, he had an internship with Lincoln Elementary School’s summer camp.
“I would literally come home thinking about, what am I going to do the next day to make sure these kids have fun?” he says.
Bates entered Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy that fall.
Bates gets some time to check his email. He usually sets aside an hour or two for that daily.
Bates stops by the main office on the way to a meeting. He greets everyone with a hug. He passes out Glenbard East pins to anyone who doesn’t have one. The GEHS red and black “G” is almost identical University of Georgia’s logo.
“I’ve got to do some branding,” Bates says, “And get that out in the community, so people recognize it as Glenbard East.”
Bates arrives at the Instructional Council meeting. While they are not the most exciting meetings on Bates’s schedule — he mostly gives input on academic eligibility of athletes — the IC meetings help keep administrators and department chairs on the same page.
The meeting adjourns after the final bell had rung, but Bates’s day isn’t nearly over.
A short student with a mop of hair calls out before Bates gets back to his office to ask when wrestling practice is.
“Like …” Bates says, checking his watch, “… now … 3 o’clock.”
The student sprints off down the hallway.
A taller student asks him where basketball tryouts are.
“Do you hear the balls bouncing?” Bates asks, pointing to the main gym. Bates leads him inside and introduces him to the coach.
Bates is steps away from reaching his office door when volleyball coach Maier pulls him aside to talk about solidifying the schedule for next fall. He promises to nail down the one game still in question.
Bates and Maier still are talking outside Bates’ door when the basketball prospect comes back. He needs to get his athletic clothes for tryouts, but he can’t get into his locker.
Bates wraps up his conversation with Maier and heads downstairs to help.
Bates sits down and takes a minute to breathe. He says this has been a pretty typical school day.
“It keeps me on my toes,” he says.
He has a couple of hours to catch up on work before the awards-night events he will attend.
Bates first stops by the boys’ cross country awards night, then the girls’.
The football awards night starts.
Bates arrives home and turns on ESPN. He is in bed by around 10 so he can start the next day at 5 again.
Bates’ lifestyle has changed dramatically from his NFL days. There’s not as much travel. He’s taken a huge pay cut. He once signed a three-year, $2.8 million deal. Bates says he makes less in a year than he used to earn in five NFL Sundays.
He hopes his football career can inspire his students. With dedication, and by seizing opportunities, he reached the highest level, and so can they.
Bates said what he misses most about football was the camaraderie, “the daily grind” with his teammates. He has found a sense of that at Glenbard East, with his co-workers.
Being a high school athletic director isn’t as glorious as playing pro football, but there’s nothing Bates would rather be doing at this point in his life.
“You just stay the path and truly believe that what you’re doing is going to make a difference,” he says. “And that is where we sit today, on November 10th, 2015.”