Tuesday, Apr 30 at 11:09 AM
Former Northside ISD assistant athletic director Don Hardin once compared overseeing the Region IV Class 5A-4A track and field meet with a roller coaster.
Even when it's over, Hardin said, "your head is still spinning."
San Antonio ISD assistant athletic director Sandra Tapia can relate to Hardin's observation after serving as director of the 5A and 4A regional meet – which is actually two meets in one – for the eighth year in a row Friday and Saturday at Heroes Stadium.
Tapia is the only female director of a University Interscholastic League 5A regional track meet in the state. The UIL divides the state into four regions. Tapia is one of just four women, in all UIL classifications, who are regional track directors
"I went to have dinner with some friends after the meet, then I went home and sent emails past midnight," Tapia said Monday. "I was still on that roller coaster. When it was all over, I was filled with pride for all the people who made it a success.
"Obviously, I can't put this meet on by myself. From the NEISD custodians, the meet officials and all the other people who helped, I am so grateful for all their work. It's great to have the opportunity to work with so many good people."
About 200 people, including coaches, athletic trainers and retired coaches, helped put on the meet, which is one of the largest regionals in the state.
The regional meet was moved to Heroes Stadium this year because Alamo Stadium, which is owned by the SAISD, is being renovated. The North East ISD owns Heroes Stadium.
Regional probably will be at Heroes Stadium again in 2014
The move gave Tapia, who is in her eighth year as an assistant athletic director with the SAISD, more moving parts to contend with than usual.
"As exhausting as it is to run the meet when it's in our own backyard, moving to another venue just added that much more stress and added that much more attention to detail to make sure that everything was right for the kids when they came to compete," Tapia said.
About 1,000 boys and girls competed in the meet, with the top two finishers in each event qualifying for the University Interscholastic League championships in two weeks.
The Region IV 5A-4A meet had been held at Alamo Stadium since 1999, when it was moved from Northside Stadium. Next year's regional likely will be at Heroes Stadium again because work on Alamo probably won't be completed in time.
"We started meeting with NEISD staff in December and in January when we came back from the holidays, we started putting pencil to paper and listing all the things we needed," Tapia said on the first day of the meet. "We've come out here many, many times to look at the track and visualize how things are going to be set up. I've been here more than my office in the last two weeks."
Tapia praised NEISD athletic director Jerry Comalander and his staff, particularly assistant athletic director Carl Gustafson, for their support after the decision was made to move the regional meet to Heroes Stadium.
"Heroes is an awesome stadium and we thank North East ISD for partnering with us," Tapia said. "North East stepped up and did an excellent job. Even though we (SAISD) we were the host, Carl took responsibility as if he was running the meet. That's how he took it to heart. He was tremendous. We couldn't have done it without him."
SAISD athletic director Gil Garza was effusive in his praise of the NEISD staff.
"They've been wonderful, very congenial to work with," he said.
Tapia was girls track coach at Taft for six years
Tapia also lauded head meet referee Tom Nalepa and assistant referees Bob Majek and George Ross.
While Tapia deflects credits to others, Nalepa, Ross and others said she's the glue of the operation.
"Sandra and I go back a long way," said Ross, a former girls track coach at Jay and Judson. "She's awesome. She likes her track. She gets involved. She does a great job."
Nalepa, who has helped with the meet for 15 years, has worked closely with Tapia the past eight years.
"I've seen a lot of meets and I've worked with a lot of people and there's none better than Sandra," said Nalepa, whose wife Ruth also helps with the meet. "She's detail oriented and wants what's best for the kids. Working with her, she entertains my suggestions very well. We work together very well."
Tapia, 53, was girls track and cross country coach at Taft for six years (1992-97) before she became an administrator at Holmgreen Junior-Senior High in 1997. She guided Taft to a regional championship and three district titles.
After three years at Holmgreen, Tapia worked at Marshall High School as an assistant principal and vice principal for six years before joining Garza's staff in 2005.
"She does a great job," Garza said. "People don't realize the planning that it takes to put this meet together. There are things that you would never think about that need to be taken care of. The thing that makes this a challenge is that it's a 4A and a 5A meet.
"Sandra is meticulous and very detail oriented. It takes all that. She's very involved in getting the right people in the right places. When the meet starts, she lets the people do their job. She's around to handle problems that need to be addressed, but she knows she's got a lot of good, experienced people around her."
Tapia arrived at Heroes Stadium at 6 a.m. Friday for an early walk-through of the facility.
"When I started seeing the buses pulling up and coaches and athletes arriving, and the stadium started filling up, that's when it hit me. 'OK, it's here now,'" Tapia said. "We've done everything we can to make it a success and it's just so exciting to see the kids compete."
Tapia always will be a track coach at heart.