NEW PALESTINE — He’s worked in five of the six Southern Hancock schools over the course of 36 years, and now New Palestine High School assistant athletic director Jeff Wright is saying so long.
Wright, 58, New Palestine, will retire just a few weeks after the spring sports season wraps up at NPHS.
“It’s just time,” Wright said. “While I love it because everyone is so wonderful, it’s just time.”
Wright’s wife, Rachelle Wright, is also retiring from the Greenfield-Central school district this year. She helped him make the decision that it might be time to do something else, like babysit their grandchild and see a few ball games.
“I actually met my wife at Brandywine Elementary,” Wright said. “My fourth year there teaching PE was her first year as a resource teacher.”
Their daughter, who also teachers in the Greenfield-Central school district at J.B. Stephens, recently had a child, so Wright and his wife want to spend as much time with their granddaughter as possible.
“We’ll watch her a few days a week and do things like go to Alaska, which we want to do this summer,” Wright said.
Wright came into the Southern Hancock school district over three decades ago — the same year his boss, athletic director Al Cooper, started in the district. They were both teachers, Cooper taught English while Wright taught physical education at Brandywine Elementary.
While Cooper stayed at NPHS, Wright taught at all the district schools except New Palestine Intermediate, the district’s newest school. Wright eventually ended up at NPHS in 2010 to teach PE and health after working at the district’s other schools. He also coached basketball throughout the district for some 30 years.
Cooper’s first year as the NPHS athletic director was in 2010. In 2016, Cooper hired Wright to be his assistant AD.
“Jeff has been the type of employee for the corporation where, if there was a hole, he’d fill it,” Cooper said. “It takes a special person to get bounced around like that but do whatever needed to be done.”
Wright noted making the decision to step down wasn’t an easy one because he enjoys his job, and he knows he’s going to miss the staff at NPHS as well as helping organize and supervise all the NPHS sporting events.
“I’m really going to miss the people,” Wright said. “Being with the folks here everyday, I have so many really close friends here in this building.”
While Wright is officially retiring, Cooper knows he will be able to count on his old friend and get him to announce a game or two when they need someone. Plus, Wright plans to continue on as the Hoosier Heritage Conference secretary.
“If they need a scoreboard guy, they know they can call me up,” Wright said. “I’ll still be a huge Dragon fan who will be at the games.”
Cooper noted filling Wright’s shoes will not be easy because he takes on so much responsibility to help the NPHS athletic department run smoothly, but he understands Wright’s decision of wanting to move on.
“The thing I’m going to miss the most is the day-to-day friendship because we clicked right away,” Cooper said.
Cooper describes Wright as the kind of person who, when they see things needing to be fixed, jumps in to do it. Cooper said Wright was always helpful when one season would run into another like the fall sports into the winter, and things would become stressful.
“It’s going to be a serious transition for our office, but we think it’s going to be a good one,” Cooper said.
Current basketball coach Trent Whitaker will take over for Wright and help Cooper run the athletic department, and Wright will work closely with Whitaker during the transition.
Wright noted he loved making the move from the classroom to the administrative side of sports and said it’s been a fun job one he feels fortunate to of had the past several years.
“I’ve always been involved in sports, and this was a way for me to really be involved in athletics,” Wright said.
While some educators spend their career moving from one district to another, Wright said he knew he found his home in Southern Hancock a long time ago. Wright, a Greenfield native, moved to New Palestine with his wife and raised their children in New Palestine. He’s hoping his grandchildren will one day attend NPHS.
“From the very first day I was hired here, I never wanted to be anywhere else,” Wright said. “I really love everything about it.”
Early on in his teaching career when PE wasn’t available full-time at all the district schools, Wright would burn up the county roads riding from one school to the other each day to offer PE to area kids.
Wright, a Purdue University graduate who now organizes NPHS school’s 21 different sports programs along with cheerleading, said he will always be a phone call, about a mile away, if and when Cooper or officials in the AD’s office need him.