Most sports fans in the state have no idea who he is or what he does, and that, as much as anything, is indicative of the terrific job Kevin Charles has done over the last decade.
Charles announced this week that he is retiring after 11 years as executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, the ruling body for high school sports in the First State. And he will leave big shoes to fill when he officially steps down on June 30, simply because he did his job so well and with so little fanfare.
Charles’ job is not an easy one. He has had to deal with a lot over the years, including administrators, athletic directors, coaches, officials, media, parents and, of course, the student-athletes. That kind of cross fire from so many sources could suck out the energy and enthusiasm of most people, but Charles seemed to thrive in it. And that’s because he never, ever lost sight of what his job was all about, which was the kids, even though he had to deal with grown-ups all the time, too, and, of course, grown-ups paid his salary.
But even though it was his job, it was also a labor of love. Charles knew that he was having a positive impact on high school sports and high school athletes in Delaware, even if few people knew his name or what he really did, which was whatever was needed at the time. And even though he never wanted the acclaim, he was a visible fixture at all major high school sporting events in the state, quietly making sure the wheels were turning as smoothly as possible. And with Charles in charge, they usually did.
Charles never sought the spotlight and most of his accomplishments were made quietly and behind the scenes. He always put the focus where it belonged, on the young athletes for whom he was responsible. And he always deflected praise toward other people when things were going well and accepted the blame when they weren’t.
Certainly, things have changed dramatically in the world of high school sports since Charles took office in 2004. Girls’ sports have expanded quite a bit and there are so many more private schools in the state now than there was when he was hired. Charles has also had to deal with new concerns after athletes’ safety, especially in the area of brain trauma in contact sports.
And those are just a few of the major issues. That doesn’t begin to count the millions of small details that can nag, nag, nag at you when you’re dealing with such a big organization with so many different needs. Like they say, the devil is in the details. Yet Kevin Charles always seemed to handle those things with an honest, matter-of-fact approach that made the solution seem simple when it was anything but. He took care of the little things while always keeping his eye on the big picture, and that is not an easy juggling act to pull off. I never heard anyone ever say a bad thing about this guy, which is remarkable when you consider all the different people who have been affected by his work and decisions over the years.
Charles leaves the DIAA in good shape. Participation and attendance at high school events has grown steadily under his stewardship, and moving the state football championship game to Delaware Stadium and the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game of the basketball tournaments to the Bob Carpenter Center are just two examples of how the DIAA under Charles’ direction has made a positive impact on high school sports.
Charles hasn’t announced his next move yet, but he’s only 62 and it’s hard to believe he won’t be involved somehow and in some way in the future with young people. But if he really does retire, he can sit back and look back on a career that made a difference in the lives of thousands of young people. That’s a pretty good legacy, and if there’s any justice it’s a legacy that one day will put Kevin Charles in the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.