Robert Faulkens '84 is a former high school teacher, coach and principal. A three-sport athlete at Earlham, he says, "this job is a chance to be a part of something I love. I can't play any more, but this is a way I can still be involved." This is an expanded version of an interview published in the Winter 2012 issue of Earlhamite magazine.
Tell us about your position and responsibilities.
I organize and oversee the tournaments for five sports: football, wrestling, boys golf and boys and girls track and field. I also am in charge the insurance for the entire association and some other business functions.
Why did you want to keep athletics so much at the center of your life?
This position was one I just couldn't pass up. I was previously a high school teacher, coach and principal [most recently at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis] and this was an opportunity to meld all those skills. It is also a chance to be a part of something I love. I can't play any more, but this is a way I can still be involved.
What leadership skills are most important in this position?
This job is all about the details. One little thing can ruin the tournament experience for a student, a coach or a parent. So I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that everyone knows and understands the rules. When it comes to managing these tournaments, the host schools need know that they are supposed to provide a neutral atmosphere for the contests. So they can't shoot off fireworks when their team scores, or do all the things they might during the regular season. So I kill them with communication. I explain things 15 times, and if a mistake is still made, I explain how to fix it.
How did Earlham affect your approach to leadership?
We wrote a lot at Earlham and we had a lot of conversations. Those communications skills are essential in my job. We also learned about consensus early on, but I think it was only when I became an administrator that I truly understood what consensus means. In the case of high school athletics, it means that everyone needs to agree to and abide by the same rules. Everyone also needs to agree of the reasons why have high school athletics in the first place. That's consensus.
What is a leadership challenge you face?
People do not like to hear "no." This comes up a lot in terms of eligibility. A family moves [from one school district to another] and maybe they don't follow the proper protocol, so I have to tell them that their student is not eligible to compete. Even though these rules are quite clear in the bylaws, everyone wants to be an exception and feel special.
What are some of your favorite memories from Earlham?
You mean ones you can print in the magazine? (Laughs.) What I remember is … there is a lot of talk about academic rigor, and when I think of rigor, I think about conversations that we had in the dorms or while eating lunch. I remember talking about all kinds of things with people who are pretty doggone smart. I would think to myself, "wow, we're talking about this stuff while we're eating lunch!"
Tell us about your experiences as a student-athlete.
I played football, basketball and baseball, and it was just great fun. We weren't very good, but we got better in all three sports. In the beginning, I think there was quite a bit of distance between athletes and other students. I'd be in class and someone would say, "you're a football player - what are you doing here?" Some people didn't realize that student-athletes are students first. I think that improved while I was there. More students started coming to see the games. But the most important thing to me is the lasting relationships I formed. In my current job, I sometimes run into guys I played with at Earlham who now have kids who are high school athletes. The other day I saw [name] whose daughter is an excellent basketball player at Hagerstown. My daughter plays soccer at North Central [High School, in Indianapolis] so we talked about are daughters and marveled at the fact that they are so much better athletes than we were!
What's something your Earlham classmates might be surprised to know about you?
I've actually voted for a few republicans in my life. I'm not going to tell you which ones, but there have been a few. But remember, I do live in Indiana!
What's your idea of a good day off?
A round of golf with friends, a couple of stogies and a Scotch, neat. They only come along every four or five months, but they are good!