TEAM LEADER: Marquette Senior High School’s Jamie Tuma grows into athletic role

MARQUETTE – When Jamie Tuma was named athletic coordinator at Marquette Senior High School, she had no clue what the job called for.

“I never envisioned what the job would entail,” Tuma, now in her fourth year in the position, said. “I hit the ground running.”

Tuma, 47, had run track and cross country at Grand Haven High School, coached soccer when her three children were little and became a member of the Superiorland Ski Club after she came to Marquette in the fall of 1987.

“At least I understood a little about sports,” she said. “But I was naive when I took over. I didn’t know how much was involved.”

Now, she oversees 30 boys and girls teams at the largest school (with 1,120 students) in the Upper Peninsula. Tuma is also only believed to be one of three prep female athletic directors in the U.P., with Mrs. Brenda Ballor (L’Anse) and Mrs. Deb DeWyse (Engadine) being the others.

Tuma insists she has never felt like a woman in a man’s world concerning her job.

“I’ve never had a man mention anything about me being a woman A.D.,” she said. “Only women (have mentioned it).”

Tuma came to Marquette with husband Scott when he joined the Northern Michigan University cross-country ski team under coach Sten Fjeldheim.

She was a substitute teacher and classroom aide before teaching kindergarten for a year. The next two years, she taught fifth grade students.

“I had no intention of going into athletics as a profession,” Tuma said. “But after my third year of teaching, I wasn’t tenured and was laid off.

“That fall, I would have been teaching part-time gym.”

But over the summer, the school’s A.D. at the time, Mark Mattson, decided to leave for a similar position at downstate Maple City Glen Lake High School. Then-superintendent of Marquette Area Public Schools Jon Hartwig called Tuma into his office one day and offered her the job to direct the MSHS athletic program.

“It took me aback,” she recalled. “I had never thought about it before. But it was a full-time job.

“I was lucky to work with Mark a couple of weeks before he left. He passed on a lot of information.”

Tuma’s first year was difficult.

“The hours involved were much more than I anticipated,” she said. “Looking back, I don’t know how I got through that first year.

Tuma said then-secretary Jan Greeley “was the biggest help to me when I started.” But when Tuma needed help, other A.D.s in the U.P. and representatives of the Michigan High School Athletic Association were there to answer her questions, she said.

“There are so many details to deal with in each sport. I’m still learning so much,” she said. “I’m lucky my coaches are so patient with me.”

Brad Nelson, in his fifth season as the MSHS boys varsity basketball coach, said one of Tuma’s strengths as the school’s athletic coordinator is her organizational skills.

“We have a lot of sports, practice times and gym times (at MSHS),” he said. There’s rarely a conflict. She’s on top of it all the time.”

Nelson added Tuma’s “very approachable,” but can stand up to deal with tough issues.

“If you have needs or questions answered, she’s easy to talk with and gets you the answers right away.

“But she’s not afraid to stick her nose into things when she knows she’s right.”

Varsity girls basketball coach, as well as boys and girls golf mentor Ben Smith said Tuma “goes above and beyond.”

“She helps out any way she can. She goes the extra yard,” he said. “She has been there for every Marquette coach, and the kids like and respect her.”

Tuma tries to attend most of the school’s athletic events. To understand more of “what’s going on,” she has sat in the Lakeview Arena penalty box during an MSHS hockey game and used the time clock at MSHS during various athletic contests.

“I feel I’m the base of MSHS athletics,” she said. “I want to answer questions if someone has an issue. I take responsibility and do my best to rectify a problem.”

Her duties vary, from scheduling athletic events and game/meet officials to making sure – with the help of volunteers – tickets for contests are sold and buses are available for transportation for away games.

She leans on MSHS athletic secretary Jan Hutchens a lot.

“She didn’t have an athletic background, but she has learned on the job,” Tuma said. “She does a superb job. She’s always there for me.”

While her hours are long, especially in January and February with a full MSHS athletic slate, Tuma said the toughest part of her job is handling discipline issues with student-athletes.

“I’d like to believe every MSHS athlete believes in sportsmanship and the school athletic code,” she said, “but we all make mistakes and so do athletes. It’s difficult (to handle).”

The best part of her job, she says, is the social network she has with others in her position across the state.

“I’ve met so many nice people, not only in the U.P. There’s also a nice network throughout the state,” she said.

Tuma, who said she can’t be labeled an A.D. because she’s still a member of a teacher’s union, sometimes envisions herself as a “glorified room mother” with all the organization and communication involved with her job.

“But I feel more comfortable now. I can see the bigger picture,” she said. “I feel lucky that I just do athletics and I don’t spread myself around too thin.”

This past summer, Tuma entertained thoughts about returning to the classroom as a teacher. But they didn’t last long.

“This (athletic coordinator’s) job is mine now and it would be hard to give up,” she said. “Some day, I can see myself going back into the classroom.

“But I like my job. I’m never bored and the days, weeks and seasons just fly by.”

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is cremsburg@miningjournal.