McGurk proud of progress made in his time at JCHS

Mike McGurk is in his final few days as activities director at Jefferson City High School.

Mike McGurk is in his final few days as activities director at Jefferson City High School.

It’s inevitable that with time comes change.

That change, or at the very minimum the perception of change, has not escaped Jefferson City High School during the last five years. One man has had a front-row seat for all of that within the athletic department.

JCHS activities director Mike McGurk, who is in his final days at the school before becoming the activities director/assistant principal at Lee’s Summit North High School, reflected on some of those changes last week.

From drug testing, to the first substantial steps in recent memory toward a new public high school, McGurk has seen his share of different stages the school has gone through during his tenure.

There was something he wanted to see change at the school almost immediately from the time he arrived from Virginia in 2008.

“The more I got into it, certainly the goal was to get everybody on the same page,” McGurk said. “I think there was a lot, and I still think there is a little bit of it, where coaches and programs have tunnel vision and they’re focused on themselves and not necessarily the entire athletic program. I think a lot of folks now kind of see the benefit of that and talk about that and the sharing of athletes incorporated into that.”

McGurk was complimentary of several coaches during his tenure who made long trips to watch other teams play. That included wrestling coach Phil Cagle traveling to Ozark to watch the volleyball team and girls basketball coach Shane Meyer traveling to Blue Springs South to watch the girls soccer team.

“That’s not a, ‘Hey, let’s go to Columbia and cheer on the Jays,’ that’s a lengthy trip he made to cheer on the volleyball team,” McGurk said of Cagle. “You’re starting to see with this group of coaches a lot more going out and supporting of other programs. Almost all of them I could give a specific example. ... They are out in full force, which is good for the kids.”

There was maybe no greater change in McGurk’s tenure than when the school implemented mandatory drug testing for athletes beginning with the 2009-10 school year.

“At the end of my first year at the summer meeting, it was a joint decision,” McGurk said. “All of us (said), ‘Hey, we have problems in our program, we need to fix it.’ The coaches and I, and I mean that all the head coaches and I worked together to come up with a program we thought A, would be approved and supported by the community and B, that we could live with and what’s best for kids.

“We threw all that together and came up with our current policy with very minor tweaks from the original.”

Every athlete on the roster is tested at the beginning of each season. There is also a random element to the testing, as 10 percent of each team’s roster is randomly tested each month.

McGurk said out of 770 tests this school year, there were five failures for drugs and four athletes who refused to be tested.

“It does indicate that we do still have a problem,” McGurk said. “The kids know it’s coming, they know they’re getting tested, that there’s a random piece to it, that they could be (tested) and they still decide to do it. They’ve known for four years and it hasn’t changed. We obviously still have a problem.

“That’s just the tip. We’re not catching a large percentage. But the fact we are still catching folks means that we have a problem.”

McGurk said he feels the program has been successful because it is a chance for kids to go get help. If a student tests positive, he or she has to seek counseling and is then tested for the next three months.

McGurk, who noted there is not a drug-testing program in the Lee’s Summit School District, said there have been two instances where students have tested positive twice, resulting in a one-year ban in athletics.

“Is it necessary in any school? Yeah, unless you want to close your eyes to it,” McGurk said. “You’re really doing what’s best for kids and trying to help them out. ... Although the parents here were super supportive. Not one positive test where they’ve been contacted have we had any issues. A lot of parents, until they see a positive test, don’t necessarily believe that their kid might be involved in that stuff.”

Besides being closer to his wife’s family in Kansas City, McGurk said he liked the fact Lee’s Summit North has all of its athletic fields on campus, instead of having them spread out across town like Jefferson City does.

McGurk said he was hopeful if the bond issue had passed in April to fund a new high school, Jefferson City could have become like that.

“The high school is the hub for activities,” he said. “Obviously it was a drawing point for me to say, ‘Hey, this is fantastic.’ I’ve been at some schools where you can pay one price and come up and catch a lot of activities in one evening.”

McGurk said he will always have many fond memories of Jefferson City, including the state softball championship in 2009 and the girls basketball team upsetting Rock Bridge 34-33 to win a district title in 2011. He also remembers the 2008 state semifinal football game, which he said was the coldest game he could ever remember.

But he said what he will remember most is the people and the friends he made.

“When I first walked in we just seemed to have quite a bit of issues with kids and stuff and where we are now and the respect (kids have now), it is like night and day,” he said. “It’s awesome knowing we have great people in place, a supportive superintendent and school board. This place will succeed and it’s just been fun to watch.”

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