Martha Richards talks philosophy, vision as Aspen High’s new athletic director
A longtime collegiate golf coach, first-year Aspen High School athletic director Martha Richards hasn’t changed her approach now that she’s an administrator. In many ways, she’ll treat the AHS students and coaches much as she did her college athletes.
“I always thought of my college athletic director as the head coach for the coaches,” Richards said. “When I recruited good players, my job wasn’t to fix their golf swing. My job was to add shots to their repertoire. We have really good coaches, so I view it as how do I support them, how do I help them add shots to their repertoire? How do I help them be the best coaches they can be for our kids?”
Richards was named the school’s athletic director in July, replacing Jay Maher, who resigned after two years in the position. She was the head women’s golf coach at Vanderbilt University from 2000 to 2007, where she was named the national coach of the year in 2004 by Golfweek magazine, before serving as the head women’s golf coach at the University of Texas from 2007 to 2014.
Richards stepped away from coaching in 2014, citing health concerns. She survived two bouts of cancer, developing ovarian cancer when she was 25 and thyroid cancer at 33. Since leaving UT, Richards took some time off and helped a friend start a software company called BirdieFire, which does statistics and live scoring for college golf.
“I have always wanted to get into administration. I thought about it while I was in coaching,” Richards said. “I’m really lucky and really blessed. This is probably the one job I really wanted in Aspen. So to get it is pretty fantastic.”
Richards is a Wisconsin native — and a diehard Green Bay Packers fan — who played golf and basketball for Stanford University. She was part of Stanford’s 1990 national championship team in women’s basketball.
Richards has long considered Colorado somewhat of a second home as her sister lives in Denver. Richards lived in Denver for about six months before moving to Aspen in summer 2016, long before the athletic director position opened up.
Then, the stars aligned and Richards landed the type of job she’s long wanted.
“I wanted to get back in because I wanted the chance to affect kids at an even younger age. So to get the chance to work with these coaches and kids is certainly exciting,” Richards said. “It’s not like I’m inheriting something broken. … This is a place that has had a lot of success over the years. Now my job is to continue to grow it and enhance it.”
Richards promises she isn’t “here to teach anybody to coach hockey or lacrosse,” but to give the coaches and players that extra shot to take their game to the next level. She believes sports and coaching can “change the world,” and wants Aspen to have the tools to make that happen.
She wants the coaches to be transformational.
“Coaches have a unique opportunity to touch kids’ lives in a different way than anybody else,” Richards said. “Different than teachers, different than parents, and it’s a unique opportunity to help shape young people. I think we want to try and affect them in a really positive way. If we can help do that, we start to change the culture here, we start to change the culture in the community.”
Being a first-time administrator at the high school level, Richards knows there will be plenty to learn this school year. Her first weeks on the job were all about scheduling and getting athlete physicals taken care of, part of a “fast and furious” beginning to her job.
But only a few months into the position, Richards is starting to develop a vision for what she wants AHS athletics to be in the future.
“I do have kind of the start of a vision on where I’d like to see us go. But I also understand that for me this year there is a lot to learn. My tendency is I want to do all these great things right away,” Richards said. “My vision is for us to be in a place of competitive excellence. That would be my philosophy. And that doesn’t mean we are going to win everything, but it means we are going to do everything we can to put ourselves in a position to win.”
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What happens when the usual mental health fixes aren’t working the way they used to?