Jack Spain was an extraordinary athletics director.
It seems strange to say he was, not is, the Broughton High athletics director, but he retired Friday after 20 years. Its time, he said, to get healthy.
Spain said his retirement is bittersweet, but more bitter than sweet as the date approached.
He had heart quadruple bypass surgery last spring and more heart-related procedures during the summer.
My retirement hasnt been planned, Spain said. I havent had a lot of time to put much thought into it. The decision came pretty suddenly.
He seems an unlikely candidate to have heart issues. The former certified athletic trainer isnt overweight, he lives a healthy lifestyle and his bicycle rides keep him in good shape.
His disciplined lifestyle hasnt been enough to overcome hereditary heart issues.
This has really humbled me, he said.
The circumstances of the past few months have been difficult but also rewarding. The attention and affection shown to him by the Broughton community and area athletics officials caught him off guard. He never expected the outpouring of support he has received.
It has been overwhelming, he said.
He always has been the type of leader who says what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. Among his greatest rewards is former athletes stopping by to say they understand now.
That is the best thing about working with kids, he said. You watch them grow up and you hope that in maybe some small way you helped them along. Then you see them years later and see what they have become.
Spain may be the best-known high school athletics director in the state. Broughton often has been the official host school for N.C. High School Athletic Association championships in Raleigh. He, and the staff he assembled, handle the logistics and operations at the title games.
He is about as close to being an NCHSAA staff member as you can be without being on the staff, said Davis Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner. Jack never says, No. He is always available, always willing to do whatever needs to be done. He is the consummate professional.
Bobby Guthrie, the recently retired Wake County Schools athletics director, said Spain had been his adviser, mentor and friend.
I dont know what I would have done without him, Guthrie said. Jack was the only athletic director in the system who was here when I got the job and was still here when I left. That stability helped. He has so much experience.
Spain isnt one to talk about legacies or what he has accomplished or how successful the program has been. Broughton has won 51 NCHSAA state championships, the majority during Spains tenure.
If there is a legacy, he said, it is the good coaches on the staff. Several longtime coaches baseball coach Jim Comis, soccer coach Izzy Hernandez and tennis coach Steve Spivey retired in recent years. Replacements were found, and new eras have begun.
There is a normal life cycle to these things, Spain said. If youre lucky, coaches come and stay for a long time, but some day someone will replace them.
Weve got a new class of freshmen this year who will have no idea that I was ever here. In four years, there wont be any students here who ever knew me. I understand that.
But hopefully, some of the coaches that we have here now will have an impact on them.
Spain said he hopes to be around some, maybe driving a team to a game, collecting tickets at the gate or doing odd jobs. Broughton principal Steve Mares has several projects in mind.
Aaron Minger, his successor, said there is no replacing Spain, just following him.