LINCOLN — Rhonda Blanford-Green's eagerness to become the next executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association was stoked early in the hiring process.
“(In) conversations with the board, it seemed we had similar interests, similar goals of how we'd like to see the direction go for the association,” Blanford-Green said. “Once I investigated and saw that fit, I was motivated.''
The former University of Nebraska track and field star, who has worked for the Colorado High School Activities Association for 16 years, is the first NSAA executive director hired from outside the state and the first with prior athletic administration experience on the state level.
And, quite possibly, she is the first African-American woman to head any state high school association.
Her hiring was announced Monday. She was one of four finalists who interviewed last week with the NSAA board.
The chairman of the NSAA board, Fillmore Central Superintendent Mark Norvell, said Blanford-Green’s experience with a state association was “pretty critical.”
“She has great exuberance for the job,’’ Norvell said. “If you had to pick out someone with a dynamic personality to head an organization, she showed that.
“We had Jim Riley as executive director for a long time and then Jim Tenopir, and Steve Shanahan has done a great job while we looked for a (permanent) director. It may look like we’re going in a different direction, but she has their same leadership qualities.”
Blanford-Green said it took a lot for her to leave the Colorado association. She begins her new position July 1.
“I love what I do here, which is what made it harder,’’ she said. She said CHSAA Commissioner Paul Angelico hand-picked her to be associate commissioner and she believes that she was possibly being groomed to be his successor.
Colorado is as much her home state as any other, as she was born into a military family. She graduated in 1981 from Aurora Central High School and signed for track and field with NU. She was an undefeated Big Eight champion and 10-time All-American who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Trials.
She was an assistant track and cross country coach at Wyoming, where she finished her undergraduate degree in 1992. She worked for the Aurora (Colo.) schools as a community school liaison for three years before she applied for an opening with the CHSAA.
Her timing was good, she said, as the association was seeking someone to oversee cheerleading (she was on the dance team at NU) and track and field and handle Title IX and equity issues.
“My strengths were what was needed,’’ Blanford-Green said. “They took me out of my comfort zone with some things, too. Ice hockey, boys soccer, skiing. I wasn’t just the track girl. I’ve been able to grow into some areas.”
She’s married to John Green, from Sargent, Neb. He was a football player and track athlete at Doane College in Crete, making The World-Herald’s 1973 State College all-star football team. He retired as district athletic director for the Cherry Creek (Colo.) schools after 33 years in high school athletics.
The couple has two children in high school. John signed in November in baseball with Eastern Arizona. He’s a senior outfielder at Cherokee Trail High School. Aspen is a sophomore who started last fall for Parker Lutheran’s state championship volleyball team.
The Greens spend most Christmases in the Broken Bow area. Rhonda has been in the state for a few speaking engagements, but last week’s final interviews with the NSAA was the first time she saw downtown Lincoln since college and it also gave her a chance to visit her college coach, Gary Pepin.
“I’ve made presentations on the national level about nine times and when people from Nebraska find out I’m a Cornhusker, it’s like an instant bond,’’ she said. “Like at the national A.D.’s meeting in December. I don’t feel like an outsider. I feel like there’s a natural tie here.”
Blanford-Green said her husband will stay in Colorado with Aspen while she finishes her final two years of high school.
“This is the hard part,’’ she said.
Her daughter would like to play college volleyball for either Doane or Concordia, in Seward, and Blanford-Green said Aspen wants to attend their summer camps.
“She’s not a 6-1 outside hitter, so we know NU is out,” Blanford-Green said.
When she can during the next few months, Blanford-Green will get acquainted with her new job. She hopes to attend a small-schools meeting in Kearney in mid-March and the NSAA’s Representative Assembly on April 13 in Lincoln.
Loyalties, she said, must remain with the Colorado association through the end of the school year.
“I’m committed and dedicated to finishing out here strongly, not leaving anything hanging,’’ she said.
Once she gets to Nebraska, she is ready to resume her eagerness.
Her job, she said, “is the opportunity to show what the challenges are for high school athletics and activities and the positives of what our complement to the educational process is.
“I will bring fresh ideas, not better ideas, because Nebraska has been a solid association.”