Colbrese has led the WIAA for 25 years. The organization announced it will start a nationwide search for his replacement.
Mike Colbrese has a little more work to do before he calls it a career.
Colbrese, who has been the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association for 25 years, announced this week he’ll be retiring at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
With the WIAA nearing the end of a three-prong strategic plan, it seemed like good point to “ride off into the sunset,” as Colbrese puts it Thursday morning.
The WIAA is studying how to structure the association to be more visible in how it works, to work with schools and leagues to promote a healthier culture in schools and how to figure out to make the WIAA’s programs, which go beyond athletics, accessible to schools that are more racially and economically diverse.
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It’s a healthy chunk to bite off in the last year and a half.
“Really, at least be on a good roll so that the next director has some direction and opportunity to pick up that ball and roll with it,” said Colbrese, 68.
Colbrese came to the WIAA in 1993 after being in the same position in Wyoming. He came to that job after being an assistant state association director in Montana. Both changes came, he said, for the challenge.
He said it’s unusual to see somebody who moves to a different state association; most come to the work after careers in education.
And that’s Colbrese’s story too as he was a former English and journalism teacher. He used to work as an official for basketball and football games in high school and college. The combination was a good one to work in state associations and he began that career in 1982.
Now, he’s one of the longest-serving directors of a state association in the nation.
If you ask him which accomplishments he’s most proud of during his 25 years, he’ll deflect at first.
He’ll tell you how proud he is of getting out and listening to the schools that make up the WIAA. From those conversations, three accomplishments emerge:
When he first came to Washington, he worked to revamp the outdated classification system, which had just four classes at the time (B up to AAA). The state now has six classifications. He said more work needs to be done on the state’s classifications.
More recently, the WIAA has worked on a concussion management system that became state law (the Lystedt law), which Colbrese said became a model for the rest of the nation.
The WIAA was the first to create such a system, and it was the first to create policies for transgender athletes, another accomplishment Colbrese points to.
As for what’s next, Colbrese doesn’t really know yet.
“It’s too early to think about what the next step is,” Colbrese said. “There’s work to be done with the association.”
The WIAA said in a release Thursday it will launch a nationwide search for Colbrese’s replacement.