For the Love of the Game

With 2 ADs at home, Howards balance family, sports

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When John and Amie Howard got married on July 21, 2001, they never envisioned either one of them becoming an athletic director in the future. Eighteen years later, John will be entering his eighth year as Woodland High AD, while Amie opens her fourth year in the same role at nearby Allatoona High.

Not only have they managed to climb the ladder to those leadership positions, while also each becoming an assistant principal, but also they've done extremely well since taking over. Both are preparing to head into the 2019-20 school year on the back of receiving recognition as the ADs of the year for their respective regions.

In 2018-19, Woodland won two state titles in wrestling, the girls cross country state championship and a first-ever Region 7-AAAAA crown in softball. A member of Region 6-AAAAAA, the Buccaneers were highlighted by the volleyball program's runner-up finish at state and softball's third-place showing.

As expected, the pair downplayed their accomplishments, while complimenting their coaches and athletes. However, they both heaped praise on each other.

"I'm very lucky; he’s helped me,“ Amie said, fighting back tears. "I felt like he deserved it a long time ago. I was more proud of him than I was thankful that I got recognized."

Said John, "I get to see what she does at her school, and I get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff. I feel like she was truly deserving of it. I'm glad that the ADs in her region saw what I saw and gave her that opportunity. It was awesome."

The Howards met during their time as student-athletes at Jacksonville State.

A native of Jacksonville, Alabama, and the only girl in her family, Amie attended her hometown school on a volleyball scholarship. Meanwhile, John, the lone boy in his family, joined the JSU football program after graduating from LaFayette High.

The couple first met in a mutual class, but Amie had already caught John's attention even before that.

"All the athletes would be in the cafe together," he recalled. "I saw her walk in. I knew who I was hopefully going to marry, and it worked out."

They started dating in 1999. Amie remembers because of the Y2K scare at the turn of the millennium. She graduated in 2000, and John did so the following year. Over the ensuing months, they exchanged wedding vows, moved to Georgia and took jobs at Dade County High.

Ironically, the couple who work for schools in Bartow and Cobb counties now reside in Paulding County. Their house sits just over the Paulding-Cobb county line, virtually across the street from Allatoona High. Even crazier is that the Howards have lived in that house for 15 years, predating Amie's future school, which opened in 2008.

Amie was on the original teaching staff at Allatoona, moving over from East Paulding. She also coached volleyball at both schools. Seven years ago, Amie became an assistant principal before eventually adding AD responsibilities to her plate.

John, who started at Woodland in 2002, took the opposite path to holding both titles. After Mike Tobin left Woodland for Cartersville High, John took over his three roles — PE coach, head boys basketball coach and AD. None of which were jobs John had ever planned to hold.

"We had really good people we worked under who encouraged us and helped both of us take a chance," Amie said.

Before she made the AD jump, Amie had the benefit of watching John deal with the responsibility for a few years. Even still, she didn't realize how tough it would be, especially for someone who's youngest child was only six months old.

"We had a lot of talks about it,” Amie said. "I missed athletics, missed being around kids. We weren't sure how it was going to work. I remember I sat down on the couch and basically said, 'I want to do it.'  He said, 'We'll make it work.' And we have."

Part of the reason the dynamic works so well is the ability for them to empathize with each other's struggles. They also benefit from having someone to bounce ideas off, particularly  someone with a different perspective. While both have experience as coaches, John brings a little more experience in the AD role and Amie comes from more of an academic background.

"One of the biggest positives to us both being athletic directors is that we both know what the other one has to do, so we don't get upset," John said. "I think if she was a stay-at-home mom or I was a stay-at-home dad, it would be difficult. You just wouldn't understand what that person goes through."

As one would expect, though, the situation is not always easy on the Howards. It can be particularly difficult during the fall, when football Fridays turn into nearly 24-hour marathons of upheaval.

That's where the grandparents have stepped up.

"We have great family, I don't know another way to put it," Amie said. "... Rhys was just a baby when I started, and both of our parents would come to the house. They live an hour and a half away. On Friday, they would get in the car and come over. They would pick them up from school, take them home and spend the night.

"Without them, I don't think it would have happened, to be honest."

It also helps to have understanding children.

“It’s one thing for us to put up with each other’s schedules, and it’s another for our kids,” John said. “We’re like any other parent, we try to spoil them when we can. They do put up with a lot of us being gone, late nights and us dragging them around.”

The Howards' eldest son, Rhett, 14, is set to be an eight-grader at Durham Middle; Grant, 10, will be starting his fourth-grade year at Pickett's Mill Elementary soon; and 3-year-old Rhys will eventually be following in their footsteps. While the two oldest kids are in the Cobb County School System, there's still an outside chance they could someday be Wildcats.

"We chose Cobb [schools], because when I was a new mom and we opened Allatoona, I did not want my kids away from me," Amie said. "I wanted to be close to them, and Pickett's Mill is literally on the same campus as Allatoona. If something happened, I could get over there quickly. ...

"We've let them follow the progression to middle school, but we've told all of them, when you go to high school, you can choose what school you go to."

Aside from the drawback of having hectic schedules that can't always be bailed out by supportive parents, the Howards were in agreement as to the most difficult aspect of having two ADs under the same roof.

"We're both extremely competitive people," John said, as his wife failed to stifle a laugh. "Even though we're not the head coaches of our teams, we are so passionate about what we do, sometimes we have a hard time letting go. Not having that far to drive home, sometimes you don't have the time to unwind a little bit.

"We have to tone it back a little bit sometimes and be a dad, be a mom and be a husband, be a wife."

Despite being separated by roughly 12 miles, Allatoona and Woodland face off infrequently in sports. That's just fine with the Howards, because their worst nightmare would be the two schools being stuck in the same region.

"I don't ever want to be in a region that competes against him," Amie said. "I just don't want that. I love athletics, and I enjoy it. But if it ever came to that, I would sit him down and one of us would step back from the AD role. I don't feel like that's something that would need to come into our relationship. Being so competitive, if we had to play in the same region, it would not be healthy at all.

"We've been very blessed that we haven't had to worry about that, and I don't think we'll have to with the next cycle either."

Unless the region issue does present itself, there doesn't seem to be any plans for either one to change positions. Although, both are certainly going to remain open to new opportunities, because that's what led them to this point.

“I’m extremely happy in the position I’m in, but before I never had aspirations to be a head coach or be an athletic director,” John said. “It has definitely opened my mind to other possibilities that could happen. … If a door opened up that was the right fit for our family, I may be open to it.”

Whether either one ultimately changes jobs or both remain ADs and APs until retirement, Amie will trust that the Howards' lives are part of a bigger plan.

“I believe that as long as I’m working with kids, in some manner, that’s my purpose, that’s my life and that’s what makes me happy,” she said. “I do believe that God has a plan. When He’s ready for me to move on from Allatoona and He wants us to take a chance on something, He will present that offer.

"Otherwise, we’re right where we need to be, doing exactly what we need to do. I really and truly believe that.”