Semple Helped Develop a Championship Culture as Hand’s Athletic Director
After spending the past 18 years as the athletic director at Daniel Hand High School, Craig Semple is stepping down to take on a similar role at Masuk. Throughout the past two decades, Semple has worked tirelessly to build the Tigers’ athletic program, while helping to develop a championship culture in the town of Madison.
Semple began mulling over his decision last December. He came to Hand with a vision and wanted to make sure that the Tigers were always moving forward. Semple liked how Masuk’s school system has numerous similarities to Madison. It wasn’t an easy decision for Semple to leave, but it’s one he made knowing that he did everything he could at Daniel Hand.
“I had a vision in Madison about what I wanted to accomplish. I know I accomplished what I set out to do,” Semple said. “I didn’t want to plateau. I know there was still a lot of work to be done. I like projects and challenges. It wasn’t easy. I love the kids and community. We got the program where we wanted to.”
Before he was an athletic administrator, Semple was an athlete. He competed in swimming, baseball, and football in the town of Waterbury. After his playing days were done, Semple went on to coach those three sports, along with softball, basketball, and track and field, at the elementary through high school levels in Waterbury.
Semple always wanted to make sure that the next generation of athletes had strong coaches. Semple spent a lot of time teaching other coaches and was ready to make a difference when he began his career off the field.
“In high school, I felt like I didn’t get the best coaching. I was determined to ensure that kids got better coaching and that they had better experiences,” said Semple. “Teaching and coaching are really the same. Once I became really good at it, I realized I could teach a lot of people how to do things. I could help coaches become better coaches.”
Along with his efforts as a coach, Semple has also spent numerous years as a health and physical education teacher in both elementary and middle school. Prior to joining Hand, Semple served as the director of health and physical education in New Fairfield.
Even with his experience, Semple was still uncertain if the athletic administration was the field for him. However, when Semple heard that the athletic director position was open at Hand in 2004, the opportunity was simply too good to pass up.
Semple was aware that the Tigers had a strong football team, but when he got the job, he knew there was much more to accomplish. Semple started working toward building up the entire Hand athletics program, instead of just select sports. During Semple’s tenure, the Tigers have gone from offering 24 sports to 37, adding sports such as skiing and fencing. As of this year, Semple said that 75 percent of the students who attend the school play sports with numerous students participating in more than one.
Semple is a big believer in the importance of students learning transferable skills through athletics. These are the skills that they will take with them long after they playing days are done. Semple’s goal was to provide as many kids as possible with an opportunity to learn the skills that will benefit them beyond high school.
“I knew they were a good football school. I wanted to be comprehensive in all sports. I wanted the same energy, effort, and support to be given to all sports,” Semple said. “The transferable skills are tremendous. Those are real skills you’ll use in life. I wanted them to experience the social, emotional, physical, and mental aspects of what sports gave to me. That’s what a good leader does. They create a healthy culture in the school community and the greater community.”
Semple said he typically put in 75 to 80 hours a week in his capacity as athletic director, ensuring that any conflicts were resolved and that the Tigers were always on right path to success. However, he didn’t do it alone. In order for Hand’s programs to succeed, Semple needed everyone, from the athletes to the coaches to the parents, to all buy in to the system. He felt happy to see that mission come to fruition. All the team’s coaches set up clinics during the offseason in order to get better. The athletes came into each season ready to work. With a mindset of continual improvement, Semple saw everyone involved in Daniel Hand athletics make crucial contributions to help the Tigers become a top-tier program.
“You have to get kids to buy in that they’re going to have to work. They have to get themselves a solid foundation before they get to the first tryout,” Semple said. “We have to use all the resources we have to give the kids a true picture of where they are and where they need to be. We need to constantly evaluate where our kids are. You have to work to become the best you could possibly be. That’s what a championship culture is.”
The Tigers have certainly developed a championship culture throughout Semple’s time at the high school. With Semple as athletic director, Hand has won 50 state championships and also finished as the runner-up in state competitions on 48 occasions. In 2004, Hand was recognized as the top athletic program in Connecticut by USA Today. The next year, the Tigers received that same accolade from Sports Illustrated. Semple has also helped spearhead several renovations, including two fitness centers and two turf fields.
Semple said it took some time for the Hand athletic program to become what it is today. The progression required a tremendous effort from both Semple and his fellow members of the community. However, Semple was always willing to put in as much work as necessary, because he wanted nothing less than the best for the Tigers and the town of Madison.
It was important for Semple that the Tigers had excellent coaching in every sport. He vetted every hire and made sure they fit into what Hand was trying to build. By focusing on the personal attributes of potential coaches, rather than just accolades, Semple found leaders who helped bring Hand’s programs to the top.
“We can teach the X’s and O’s and technique and strategies to coaches, but I try to hire good people—people that are value centered, people that are willing to do the extra things for kids, people that create an environment that is safe, healthy, fun, and competitive,” said Semple. “My job is to create a trusting, working relationship with all our coaches. I have their back, they have mine, and then the kids benefit.”
For all of the Tigers’ accomplishments over the past 18 years, Semple said that there is no specific achievement that stands above the rest. Semple has gained the respect of both his colleagues and Hand’s athletes and, for him, “That’s all the currency I need.”
Semple will soon be moving on to Masuk High School, where he will serve as the athletic director and the director of health and physical education. As he continues his career in athletic administration, Semple feels proud of the work that he’s done and the success that the Tigers have experienced throughout his tenure at Daniel Hand.
“I feel fulfilled. My cup is full in regard to working in a noble profession and working with quality people. They all have the same goal in mind. They all want to do great things for the kids,” Semple said. “My wife Lynn is a nurse, and I’m an educator. I told her we aren’t going to be rich, but we’ll be rich in other ways. I have accomplished the goal of being fulfilled as a person, because I have helped a lot of people.”