A lot has changed in Mansfield over the past 20 years. One of the most noticeable is the growth from a single high school and two middle schools into a district with five high schools. That progress presented a number of challenges, not the least of which was building and maintaining athletic programs at all the schools. Overseeing that was Athletic Director Debbie Weems, who announced last week that she’s decided to hang up her administration shoes and retire.
“I’ve always thought about what would be next,” she said. “I’m ready. I look forward to the things that are in front of me.”
After serving as girls head basketball coach from 1987 to 1993, Weems moved into an assistant athletic director role. She took over as athletic director in 1996. At the time, there were only a half-dozen or so woman athletic directors in the entire state of Texas, including Birdville’s Willa Gipson, who had just previously assumed her role.
“Sure, there were some things that I ran up against that were challenges,” Weems said. “It was pretty much a male-dominated profession and career, but I found most of the men that were athletic directors were respectful and helpful and encouraging to me.”
Now, 36 years after starting her career in education, Weems looks forward to playing more golf, among other things. Or no things.
“My plans immediately are just to take some time off and see what’s it like not to have to do something and not have to be somewhere or responsible for something,” she said. “I’m going to check that out and see what that’s like, and then after I get bored with that, I’ll get involved in something.”
Weems’ announcement caught most off guard, including current Lake Ridge football coach Kirk Thor, who held an administrative role in the athletic department from 2008-2012.
“I think it surprised us,” he said. “She told the athletic coordinators in a meeting and I was really surprised. I’ve been here for 12 years and she’s been here as the A.D. for every year I’ve been here. We certainly hate to see her leave. If she’s ready for retirement we’re excited for her, but we certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for her.”
Weems said it would impossible to narrow down a singular highlight to her tenure with the district.
“I’ve absolutely loved every minute of what I’ve done once I got into education and became a teacher coach and then into administration. It’s just been awesome,” she said. “I’m one of those people that every day I came to work I enjoyed coming. I looked forward to coming to work. I loved the people I worked with and the kids I coached.”
While there may not be one specific event or moment, it’s hard not to consider the massive undertaking that was expanding the athletic program multiple times.
“The growth of the district in many ways was very challenging, opening a new school every two or three years and then opening middle schools and hiring coaches and all those things,” Weems said. “The highlight of it all is to look back on it now and see what’s happened – to see the growth and how we split and how put it all back together. And then it happened again and we put it back together again, and then continued to be successful.”
Another accomplishment Weems takes pride in is the Mansfield ISD Athletic Hall of Honor, which will induct its fourth class later this year. It was a project Weems firmly supported, and insists she will continue to support however she can.
Weems said she has no idea what plans exist for replacing her once she leaves and knows of no role she’ll play in determining her successor, though she would be willing to assist if asked.
“I’ll always be connected to Mansfield ISD. It’s been a huge part of my life and part of who I am,” Weems said. “I’m happy with what I did. Yes, I made decisions that weren’t so good at times, and I made some decisions that were good at times. But I think it’s a pretty strong program and it’s well respected across the state.”
Coaches like Thor say they’ll miss her leadership.
“She’s an amazing leader who has a gift of surrounding herself with other great leaders who can get things done and who really want to work with her and for her,” he said. “It’s amazing what she’s done in her leadership role for the athletic department and the amount of respect she has from those who work with her closely.”