EDMOND — When Bob Diefenderfer arrived at Deer Creek in the fall of 1997, the high school had less than 400 students and played Class 3A athletics.
When he retired last spring after 17 years — the last 12 as the school’s athletic director — Deer Creek was the 34th-largest school in the state, well on its way to the Class 6A level, and had built some of the nicest athletic facilities in the state.
It’s been a speedy growing process at Deer Creek, a school district with a uniquely rural feel right on the edge of the city, to the west of Edmond’s metro area and north of Oklahoma City.
Athletics has been a huge part of the growing process. The school has won 20 state championships in a variety of sports in the last decade.
The football team’s 2000 state title in 3A was a big spark in the early growing process of the school, and the Antlers have become a regular playoff team at the Class 5A level.
But it’s not all about athletes, or coaches, or even an athletic director. Building athletic champions starts at the top — superintendents, school board members and principals.
“Those people saw the big picture,” Deer Creek football coach Grant Gower said. “We’ve had people who value the role of athletics — or really, any extracurricular aspect of high school.
“About seven or eight years ago, we developed some long-term planning committees that addressed all areas, from technology to curriculum to facilities and everything within the district. That’s where we developed the $142 million bond issue that would build all of the things we have now, like a new elementary, new middle school and all the things at the high school campus.”
New athletic director James Edwards, who spent four years under Diefenderfer as an assistant AD before taking over, has seen a 10-year building plan crammed into three years, which made communication with the top administrators even more important.
“Seeing that our administration put a lot of thought into bringing along our athletics and performing arts in that larger school dynamic has been great,” Edwards said. “Our administration has worked hard to get a lot more of our coaches in the school. We’ve had a lot of lay coaches in the past, and we’ve been able to fill a lot of positions with people who are teachers as well.
“That’s been rewarding, because it’s important that they’re in our school and taking part in the day-to-day life of our kids, not just when they show up to athletics.”
Diefenderfer’s role can’t be overstated. He saw the building project through from start to finish, while still handling all of the day-to-day duties of an athletic director at a 5A high school. A humble man, Diefenderfer is quick to pass off the praise, though.
“All the administrators within the school were constantly communicating with each other to keep things moving,” he said. “Our board of education had a tremendous role in this, because they’re the ones who had a lot of plans and change orders brought to them to approve.
“Everyone understood that we were building things that were going to last for decades down the road, and benefit a lot of students.
“The big reward is seeing the kids light up when they get out there on their new court or their new field, and realize that this is theirs. You want to see them succeed and you want them to have something they’re proud of.”