The marketing of a program for any high school athletic administrator goes beyond putting people in the stands. While it can be fruitful to field successful teams, spotlighting other facets of an education-based program can generate positive growth thanks to academics, community outreach and progressive branding.
In Colorado, Matt Heckel has worked hard to build a “strong sense of community” at Dakota Ridge High School. Located in Littleton, Colorado, Dakota Ridge doesn’t identify with any specific area, serving as one of five high schools in the city.
“I feel our choice enrollment has gone up through our feeder schools,” said Heckel, Dakota Ridge’s assistant principal and athletic director. “When kids visit us, the number one thing that they talk about is the sense of community and pride here. I want to build on that. Although we’re not a small town, we have a small-town feel.”
Heckel and fellow athletic director Jim Doyle presented on “Promoting and Marketing Your Athletic Program” last December at the National Athletic Directors Conference (NADC) in Phoenix, Arizona. With his success in that area, Heckel recognizes the role that athletics and activities play in connecting the high school to the community and state.
Since coming to the school in 1996, Heckel has assembled multiple committees to promote not only the school, but the contributions of students and teachers alike. Among them are the Legacy Committee and Community Connection Committee.
“It opens the doors for everybody, whether they’re interested in activities or athletics,” Heckel said.
During Heckel’s tenure, Dakota Ridge has only had one baseball coach, two football coaches and two volleyball coaches, further cementing tradition at the school. Founded on the school’s motto, “to live, to learn, to love and to leave a legacy,” the Legacy Committee came about after Heckel continuously pushed to get the school’s logo and brand into the community, district and state. The committee is composed of coaches, his secretary and an instrumental instructor.
“I wanted to build a legacy committee that helps build what we’re doing at our school,” Heckel said. “We’ve had consistency. What I’ve been lucky with is I’ve had fellow coaches who have been here as long as I have when the school opened in 1996, and we’ve formulated and built the legacy with that. I have alumni who went to school here, graduated and came back to teach here. I put them on the committee, trying to instill that sense of pride.”
Likewise, the four-teacher Community Connection Committee strives to improve the “small-town” feel of the school community by working with Dakota Ridge feeder schools. This has been accomplished through several brainstormed ideas. Those ideas include attendance by student-athletes and coaches at feeder school events, leadership training, guest student feeder school announcements, after-school tutoring, teacher aid program, and childcare during PTA meetings.
“We make sure that our students can get out and meet with the eighth-graders. They talk to them about what they can expect and the pride that we have in our school,” Heckel said. “I also have a meet-the-coaches night for the eighth-graders. I give a shirt to all students in attendance. Although some coaches ask why I do that since we’re not guaranteed to get all of those students, it gets our name and logo out there. On the first day of school, 90 percent of those freshmen are wearing the shirt that I gave them back in March.”
Heckel added that it’s also proven beneficial to have a community newsletter and promotional posters, as well as EagleFest, which welcomes six feeder schools to see what the school has to offer. EagleFest includes an introduction to the football team, a 5K, a fun run and walk, and an alumni baseball game. The Community Connections Committee also uses the event to award two $1,000 scholarships each to a deserving male and female student.
As Heckel established Dakota Ridge in its school community, athletic director Jim Doyle had worked to introduce branding consistency to the Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio.
When Doyle began the rebranding process nearly five years ago, Hawken was marred by numerous fonts, logos and wordmarks. At one point, Hawken employed more than 15 hawk logos.
“People will just take stock images and use them for a logo. For instance, our mascot is a hawk. Apparel companies have different logos, coaches will incorporate a different mascot image for their team, and there was no consistency,” Doyle said. “How do you have brand recognition when you don’t have a single hawk or a single ‘H?’ When there’s no consistency with the logo, there’s no recognition or pride to be had by fans.”
Absent of rules, Doyle and his committee of alumni and coaches collaborated with a marketing and design team to share ideas. A year later, the group’s ideas came to life. Doyle added that once they had a finished product, it went through a testing phase that included feedback from the school community.
“People were ready for it and loved it,” Doyle said.
During his initial pursuit for a rebrand, Doyle sought a look for Hawken that would be “easily recognizable, attractive, appealing and something that people would like to wear.”
“I think having a consistent logo lends itself to school pride; people are proud to wear the jacket, sweatshirt or hat,” Doyle said. “We’re four or five years in and it’s really worked. You see the logo all the time. People want to show it off. We’ve made it part of many standard uniform pieces, facilities and social media aspects.”
To ensure that the school’s new primary look wasn’t once again overshadowed, Doyle and his staff implemented branding guidelines. These rules stipulated when, where and how the logo could be used by school administrators. For example, only official logos and lettering are to be used. There may be no distortions, alterations, additions or subtractions, all usages must be approved, and proofs must be checked before use.
The process of implementing Hawken’s new logos and lettering has since evolved from use online and on team gear. Doyle said evidence of the rebrand has trickled to the hall of fame, pool and scoreboards. As the need arises for items, such as new wrestling mats, the school will implement the logo in those areas.
“The rebrand serves two primary purposes for us: internal and external marketing and promotion,” Doyle said. “Hawken is a private independent school, so we have an internal community with 1,300 students school-wide who have friends and families that we want to draw to games. We want to continue to build it, then we have our alumni to engage as well.
“We also want to continue to market it externally. We want to market it as a school of choice for prospective students. We want to look professional, sharp and clean. All of that is important … When other schools see the Hawken “H” being worn on the gear of our student-athletes, they recognize them and how they conduct themselves.”
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.