Jay Hammes

1990: M.S.S. in Sports Management

Jay Hammes

Convinced his high school’s basketball team would beat its cross-town rival with a 15-point lead and just 30 seconds left to play, Jay Hammes decided to get a jump on traffic.

However, as the athletic director walked out of the gym, gunfire rang out. That happened in 2002 in Racine, Wis., to Hammes, who earned his master’s in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy in 1990.

Today, he describes the violent outbreak calmly. “I left to beat the rush. As I opened the field house doors, I nearly lost my life.”

Ever since then, Hammes has dedicated his career to ensuring high school athletic events around the country follow his motto to “Play it safe!” The lead athletic director for the Racine Unified School District is founder and president of Safe Sport Zone, an after-school safety program provider.

Hammes, who has spent his life in athletics as a player, coach, P.E. teacher and 20 years as an athletic administrator at the high school and collegiate level, travels throughout the United States teaching education leaders a program he has developed to help them maintain safer environments for sporting and other events.

Hammes recently visited the Academy to discuss creating CEUs for his security training and the possibility of putting it online. Recently, Safe Sport Zone, National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) and American Family Insurance teamed up to develop five staff beginning in August to conduct the workshops to school districts across the country.

He stopped to talk to the Alumni Network about the greater need for safety and the increasing demand for his program, which many school districts have adopted and which will soon be taught in Chicago’s public schools.

Alumni Network: When did you start developing your program (http://www.safesportzone.com) that is currently endorsed by both the NIAAA and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)?

Jay Hammes: I got into this because of the shooting in our city. I wanted to make sure that it never happened at our high school. From 2002 to 2007, we added and deleted a lot of things to get to where we are now. Other coaches and athletic directors encouraged me to share what we developed with other schools. I have 12 more states left to visit and I will get to half of them this year.

Alumni Network: You have easy-to-read and short pocket-sized books on event security and charge just $10 per person for your After-School Safety Training workshop. Why?

Jay Hammes: It’s not about, ‘What can I get out of this?’ My whole purpose in life is I want to help others. We are all in this together. I like the small size of the books because if you have too much fine print it ends up in a filing cabinet somewhere. We want these kept at events in cash boxes or somewhere they can be quickly retrieved. Jay’s passion for high school athletics has him currently speaking throughout the country on maintaining a safer environment for after-school events.

Alumni Network: Currently, the shooting and killing of innocent people at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater is in the news. How bad has unruly behavior or violence become at high school athletic events?

Jay Hammes: The event in Aurora brought tears to my eyes. Unfortunately, there is no question that safety is a continuing problem at our schools, too. Spectators have forgotten what sportsmanship is and have increasingly become disruptive and potentially dangerous. We’re simply trying to keep these events safe and do it effectively. Four people were shot in Kalamazoo, Mich., at a middle school football game but you didn’t hear too much about it. It’s partly political. We don’t want the public to think our schools and events are unsafe. But problems are not leveling off, they are on the rise.