Jeff Whitney is ready to head off into the sunset.

Jeff Whitney is ready to head off into the sunset.

The Camdenton athletic director, who has also served as an educator and coach in various sports over the course of 30 years, made it official and retired on June 21 as he walked through the hallways at Camdenton High School one last time. As a result, Camdenton alumnus Bill Kurtz will be taking over the position.

However, looking back on the past three decades of his professional career, it is one that Whitney can look on fondly full of memories he will always cherish from his start in the Lockwood School District back in 1988 to his final day as a Laker.

“I would not change a thing in my educational career,” said Whitney who is originally from the Trenton, Mo., area just north of Chillicothe. “Lockwood was an absolutely fantastic place to start off as a young teacher and coach that had the responsibilities I had. Being at Camdenton has been amazing for me and my wife (Melinda) and we feel extremely fortunate and lucky to have had the careers we’ve had.”

Whitney’s journey began at Lockwood, a town located between Springfield and Joplin, where he taught sixth through 12th grade science and also served as the head football coach and assistant basketball coach. He also went on to start the baseball program and became the program’s first head coach while also assisting in track and field.

“At that time, we were responsible for mowing, lining and dragging our own baseball field and we marked our own track,” Whitney recalled of those first four years.

But that was no problem for the young teacher and coach who had been given the privilege of working with youth. For Whitney, it was always about paying it forward.

“Like most teachers and coaches that got into education, it was because of the teachers and coaches that we had. I had teachers and coaches I looked up to and that was the biggest part for me to get into education,” he explained. “It looked like they thoroughly enjoyed what they did and it did not look like a job, but a passion.”

Just four years later in 1992, a position in Camdenton opened up and Whitney continued his role as a science teacher while also coaching as an assistant in football and track. The young educator soon discovered, though, that it was a unique place and he decided to drop his anchor in the school district for the next 26 years.

“I think it is just a great community to live in. It is a different community from a lot of places because we have this giant lake and have this school district that is 365 square miles,” Whitney noted. “Most school districts are not that large geographically and it is different in terms of neighborhoods. In most towns, the majority of people live in that town, but in our situation most people live outside the city limits.”

But no matter where anyone resided within those 365 square miles, it was the people that made him want to stick around the most.

“It has just been the people in the community, the school district and the families and kids here that have made it so enjoyable,” Whitney recalled. “We raised both of our kids here and they got an outstanding education. It is the only home my kids know and we just feel very fortunate to have been able to get into the Camdenton school district and call this home for the last 26 years. We plan on calling it home for the next 26.”

During his first 13 years with the Lakers Whitney worked under Bob Shore, who served as both the athletic director and head football coach that led the program to five state championships. In 2005, Shore decided to just stick to coaching and Whitney soon found himself in a new role.

Whitney, who had attained his master’s degree in administration while working at Camdenton, felt his background and experience in various sports helped him to get the position he wanted due to the pride and community support for the school he had seen firsthand. Just like his start at Lockwood where he was inspired by those who had gone before him, Shore proved to be no different.

“He was a big reason I wanted to get into that role because he did a great job and looked like he enjoyed it. It was a big factor for me as a young athletic director,” Whitney said.

Whitney continually sought advice from his mentor who happened to be the school’s first and only athletic director and went on to coach football for five more years before retirement.

“With Shore as football coach I still had access to him every day. When I had questions about things coming up, I had him right there to ask and he was a huge influence and help to me,” Whitney recalled. “Throughout my 13 years and especially the first three or four, I was always talking to him and asking him how he handled certain things because he had done it and been through it.

“He was a huge part of my career and definitely my mentor. I hope to be helpful to Kurtz like Shore was to me and obviously it will be different because I’m not still working there, but hopefully I can help him in some way like Shore helped me.”

Whitney transitioned from the classroom and blowing a whistle to making schedules, hiring officials, organizing tournaments and also overseeing the 20 different activities and clubs the school features among other responsibilities that came with the position. During his 13-year tenure he also helped usher in new programs in sports such as swimming, trap shooting and bass fishing; oversaw renovations among the facilities on campus; partnered with Lake Regional Health System for athletic trainers and served as the conference coordinator for an organization of athletic directors known as the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administration Association (MIAAA).

But among all those different aspects of the job, the most important part was the difference extracurricular activities could make in the life of a student.

“I think anybody in this position realizes the importance that extracurricular activities play in a student’s life. It just cannot be emphasized enough,” Whitney said. “For me, it is just neat seeing those kids and how they grow, whether it is in their sport, band, choir or whatever it is, and how that gives them that school pride and school spirit being involved in that.”

Whitney also took the time to address all the coaches and directors he had the privilege of working with and the difference they made for those students as well. The former athletic director said he treasures each of those relationships and noted them among the highlights of his career.

“Coaching or being a director of an activity is a very tough and difficult job. It is time-consuming and you will never make everyone happy, but our people just have such a passion about what they do,” Whitney remarked. “I just looked up to all of them in the work they do for their programs and the amount of effort, time and love they pour into it.”

Through it all, there have been plenty of highlights along the way and the former athletic director especially noted the success of women’s athletics that has flourished over the past several years whether it was winning a track and field state title, the district championship and run to the state quarterfinals by the basketball team, back-to-back district titles from the softball team and the golf team’s presence at the state tournament to name a few.

“In every program we have there are highlights. My first year as athletic director we won the 2005 state championship in football and what a great way to start for a brand new athletic director,” Whitney said with a smile. “I’m just really proud of all our programs and the thing is that you don’t have to win a state championship to have a successful season. It is just fun to watch these different teams and individuals go from where they were the first day of their freshman year to where they end up the last day of their senior year because there is a ton of growth in four years as a high school student.”

At the same time, Whitney has also grown over the past 30 years. Now, he is ready to hand off the torch and he said the new man in charge is more than capable of fulfilling his new role.

“It is just an organizational thing and a lot of organizational and people skills. Kurtz is going to be great at this and do a lot of great things,” said Whitney who first met the new athletic director when he was a student and football player back in 1992 during his first year with the Lakers. “I’m just so happy for him to be taking over this position and he will be fantastic… Organization, time management and people skills are the thing and that is probably true of any job.”

As for Whitney, he is looking forward to the next chapter and having a little more time off.

“I think my wife and I would like to take a couple of months and see if we can get bored,” Whitney said with a smile. “At that point, we’ll look for other things to get involved in, but right now we are just waiting to see what that it is. We’ve been in school since we were five years old so this will be the first August we are not in school somewhere.

“True retirement, at least for a while.”

After three decades of teaching and leading youth and serving the community, it may be safe to say he has earned it.