A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Newport High School selects Cincinnati native Kirkendall as new athletic director

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

As the new athletic director at Newport High School, Mario Kirkendall is very aware of the challenges he faces with the position.

Those challenges, in fact, are what attracted the Cincinnati native to the job.

“I taught at Princeton and have been at every type of school in Cincinnati, whether it be coaching or teaching,” said Kirkendall, a 2004 graduate of Sycamore High School who later earned degrees Miami University (bachelor’s) and the University of Cincinnati (master’s). “I stepped away from it to figure out what I wanted to do. I went into designing products for education, implemented cross-selling strategies for new product lines.

Mario Kirkendall

“While doing that, I saw the faces of a lot of underprivileged kids. And that’s when I said, ‘I want to get back into education and teaching.’ I talked with [assistant principal] Mike Hunter about getting back into teaching in Kentucky, and after learning about the situation here with Newport, the similar difficulties they face and the challenges, this was very appealing to me.”

Kirkendall was introduced to the Newport School Board on Wednesday night. He replaces Paul Baker, who served as Newport’s athletic director in an interim role during the past academic year.

In addition to being athletic director, Kirkendall will also teach physical education at Newport.

“I was offered the teaching position and athletic director’s job the same day,” he said. “After seeing the campus, and after talking with Mike and Paul about this situation, I could see myself at Newport for a long time. I’m looking forward to this.”

While Kirkendall is aware of the problems Newport has battled in recent years, he brings an approach that he hopes will instill a new purpose for the athletes in all the sports.

“I’m a believer in using sports as a character-building device, because sports only really benefits a few when you look at the long-term goals,” he said. “There may not be one kid from Newport right now who is ever going to make it at the pro level. Very few athletes ever play professionally. At the same time, a lot of things in sports help develop young people character-wise, and it’s not just about winning.”

Kirkendall said he would like to implement a “Captains Club” of junior and senior athletes at Newport. “This will help them to step up and be leaders within their teams, and also contribute in the community,” he said. “It’s part of the character-building process.”

One aspect of Newport that impressed Kirkendall immediately was the athletic facilities. “These are some of the better facilities I’ve seen in high school sports,” he said. “You look at the football stadium, the baseball field, the gymnasium, and they are just outstanding.”

While numbers have been a problem for several of Newport’s sports, particularly football, Kirkendall said he believes there are solutions.

“I think it’s important we maintain coaches, because familiar faces will help with the buy-in of Newport sports,” he said. “We need our coaches to be visible in the community and in the school itself. That’s when the numbers will grow.”

WILDCATS UPDATE: Newport superintendent Kelly Middleton also announced that principal Kyle Niederman has resigned to accept an assistant principal position at Lloyd High School. In addition to Kirkendall, Middleton introduced new football head coach Joe Wynn to the Newport School Board on Wednesday.

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