As state association head, D.W. Rutledge leads effort to change sports for players’ benefit

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

D.W. Rutledge (center), executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, was the guest speaker of the recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon, which was attended by Marble Falls High School head football coach Mike Birdwell (left) and Faith Academy of Marble Falls head football coach Jeremy Wentrcek. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

D.W. Rutledge (center), executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, was the guest speaker of the recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon, which was attended by Marble Falls High School head football coach Mike Birdwell (left) and Faith Academy of Marble Falls head football coach Jeremy Wentrcek. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

D.W. Rutledge believes life is 10 percent incidents and 90 percent reaction, meaning a person’s attitude affects their level of success.

Rutledge, the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, spoke recently at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes gathering in Marble Falls.

Before he became the association’s leader in September 2004, he was the head football coach at Converse Judson High School, where he guided the Rockets to seven appearances in the Class 5A state championship game, winning the title in 1988, 1992, 1993, and 1995. He spent 17 seasons there and had a 198-31-5 overall record.

Having the right attitude was so important to Rutledge that he and his assistant coaches would spend a week with players emphasizing the proper mindset for practices, film sessions, the classroom, and games.

“To me, attitude is the key to success,” he said at the FCA event. “I think the most important thing I could do as a coach for my players, or teachers can do for their students, or parents can do for their children, is to help them understand the importance of a proper mental attitude and what it can mean to them as far as their success in life.”

That thinking explains why Rutledge has been so successful in leading the coaches association as the sport of football changes.

Researchers continue to study the impact football has on the body. Those studies are changing the sport. And Rutledge said it needs to change considering players today are bigger, stronger, and faster.

The association worked closely with the University Interscholastic League on coaches becoming certified in proper tackling techniques. Players are now taught to keep their heads up and out of the way as they tackle with the shoulder and wrap up the ball carrier. At the association’s convention in July, organizers gave several clinics so coaches could obtain their new certifications. Rutledge noted the association will conduct clinics across the state in the spring.

“That’s one of the things that we’re trying to do in Texas is taking the head out of the tackle,” he said. “We’re making sure that we’re doing that, and we’re certifying the coaches on tackling progressions. Those things are important. As the game changes, we’ve got to learn to change with it.”

He noted coaching staffs also are so much better at concussion protocol than when he played in the 1970s. Back then, coaches would pour a cap full of ammonia and put it under the noses of players. Then, once the player was steady, he’d go back on the field. Rutledge noted that coaches back then didn’t know any better. That’s not the case today.

“I’m really proud of our Texas high school coaches and the way they’re responding to those things and the things that are required by them from the Texas High School Coaches Association and the UIL,” he said.

While participation in football is dropping nationally, Rutledge said that hasn’t been the case in Texas. 

“I’m hoping we don’t because I think there’s so much to be gained in being part of any athletics,” he said. “That’s why we have to, as the game changes, we got to change with it. We have to have that platform for those kids. That gives us a chance to teach more things than just the sport.”

Rutledge noted some other positives he has been a part of during the past two decades.

One was the establishment of the Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation and the Our Day to Shine, a program that accepts donations during football scrimmages in August at local campuses. That money goes toward the foundation’s benevolence fund, which distributes funds back to families who have suffered an unforeseen emergency or death. When Marble Falls High School student Maribel Nikole Enriquez died in June, the foundation gave her family $3,000. 

Rutledge said that at just about every coaches gathering, organizers take up a love offering for the fund. 

“Our coaches are fully passionate about that,” he said. “It’s not a lot of money, but it helps a little bit and it shows the coaches care about it. They care about their kids and they care about their coaches. I think it’s one of the best things the coaches association does.”

Under his leadership, the association created the Texas Coaches Leadership Summit, where attendees discuss how they can use their coaching platforms to improve the lives of players and families.

He remains proud of the way coaches have embraced the education and professional development offered to them by the association.

Rutledge plans to step down in December and said he only wants to be known for one thing: his love for people.

“I think love is the most powerful thing on earth, and I want for them to remember that,” he said. “Those are the things that we’ve worked towards. Our mission statement is to help coaches help kids. I want people to think I’ve helped coaches help kids.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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