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Herman House’s first year in Tucson in the 1995-96 school year carried with it plenty of uncertainty after he moved here from Riverside, Calif., with his wife Elaine and their three young boys Ryan, Vincent and Eric.
“When I first came here I was teaching exceptional ed at Tucson High,” House said. “I have always been about making opportunities better for students.”
Making the most out of not knowing what to expect in life and chasing goals has actually fueled House and made him prosper from when he left Aurora, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, to head out out west on a whim to California to look for a good life as a teacher after he earned his education degree in college.
Dreaming big comes with the territory of being a son of sharecropper from Holy Springs, Miss.
Shortly after ending his basketball career in 1977 at Aurora University, a Division III program, the 6-foot-5 House joined a childhood friend who was stationed in the Air Force near Los Angeles. That’s when one good move started leading to another for House.
“In California is where I met my wife, who is from Tucson,” House said.
Elaine was also involved in education working in the Moreno Valley School District near Riverside. During their time there, Herman became the head coach at La Sierra Academy, a high school in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section. That was the genesis of his meaningful involvement with high school athletics. Before his first season at La Sierra in 1983-84, Herman married Elaine.
Herman’s next leap of faith was making the move to Tucson nearly a quarter-century ago as a way for Elaine to come home and for their sons to mature in this area.
“Tucson is a great place to raise children,” House said. “That was the main thing that connected me to the Tucson community is that I felt it’s a great place, and to me, the school systems are outstanding. People will say, ‘Well, that’s your opinion,’ but I believe it’s an outstanding system. My boys are involved in athletics and so that was very, very important to me.”
In addition to be being an exceptional education teacher at Tucson High School in his first year in Tucson, he was the assistant varsity basketball coach at Catalina High School under John Brown as well as the Trojans’ junior varsity coach.
After that first year, despite having no experience in athletic administration, he was approached about the opening at Tucson High School for its athletic director position. That’s when one good move started leading to another for House.
He interviewed with Tucson Unified School District Director of Interscholastics Sheila Baize and Tucson High assistant principal Susan Preimesberger and hit a home run because of his sincerity about working diligently with the school’s coaches all for the benefit of the students. He became Tucson High’s assistant principal for athletics in 1996-97.
“I took that opportunity and just fell in love with athletic administration, which was part of my undergraduate work in college,” House said. “I have loved making opportunities better for students, working with coaches and working with fellow administrators.
“For the number of years that I’ve done it, it’s been something that I truly enjoy.”
Congratulations to all TUSD student athletes, coaches, and our sports community as they were celebrated this past weekend during the Superintendent’s Cup. Thank you to our Interscholastics Director, Herman House for all your years of service you will be missed. #PROUD2BTUSD pic.twitter.com/QLwBH2u2kk
— Tucson Unified (@tucsonunified) May 21, 2019
When Baize retired from her post at TUSD in 2009, House once again took on a challenge that would make him and those around him prosper. The school board unanimously appointed him TUSD’s Director of Interscholastics on Oct. 12, 2009.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Herman for a long time now and he has great qualities for the position,” Baize told The Arizona Daily Star after his appointment. “His integrity, his knowledge of the district and his ability to work with people, those are all going to be important.
“He really cares about all of the sports, for both the high schools and middle schools. He’ll be prepared for what’s coming.”
House, 65, remembers the transition to TUSD’s athletic director as one filled with great expectations, of which he believes he has fulfilled. More than 5,000 student-athletes compete at the high school and middle school levels in TUSD and he oversees all the athletic administrators at every school. House has built a reputation of always being approachable and genuine to anyone, whether it be athletic directors at high schools or any of the student-athletes.
Sahuaro girls basketball coach Steve Botkin, who is also the school’s athletic director, mentioned that House is “always available via phone call or text.”
“I always felt like I could reach out to him about advice and to pick his brain,” Botkin said. “I really enjoyed my four years (as Sahuaro’s athletic director) working with him directly.
“He did a lot of good things. He always put students first.”
The pressure House felt the most about becoming the TUSD Director of Interscholastics was “not messing up what Dr. Sheila Baize had put together.” That’s when one good move started leading to another for House.
“I think we’ve maintained it and held it together for the most part,” he said. “I’m relatively pleased that the department is in pretty good shape. I think we’ve done — when I say ‘we’ I’m thinking about myself and my staff — what we were expected to do.”
As if his TUSD athletic director duties were not enough, House took on the role of president of the Arizona Interscholastic Association for three years before resigning from that position last year.
One of his most meaningful projects that has impacted youths locally is his creation of the MLK Classic in Tucson in 2007. He operates the event on Martin Luther King Day each January in conjunction with Coaches for Charity, of which he and Elaine are board members.
“It was also going on in Phoenix, but they limited it there,” said House, who grew up amid racial tensions in Mississippi. “I just continued it and carried it on. We continued it because I thought it was that important to our community and our kids to have that opportunity.
“It’s just a joy to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they first walk down that corridor at McKale Center. It’s just an awesome feeling. That’s why I do it year in and year out because the kids love it, and as long as they love it, we’ll be doing it.”
His retirement as TUSD’s Director of Interscholastics effective after this school year will not keep him from continuing his work with Coaches for Charity, specifically the MLK Classic, and also as a consultant with the AIA. He has communicated to Dee-Dee Wheeler, his replacement at TUSD who is a former Arizona women’s basketball standout, that he will always be available to lend support and advice. Wheeler happens to also be from Chicago.
“I want to be able to be there for her because there will be a lot of things when she transitions in that she’s going to need some assistance with, some explanation of, or just some advice on,” House said.
Dee-Dee Wheeler's life started in rough area of Chicago, motivating her to help less fortunate students there as educator & administrator. The former UA standout now returning "home" to Tucson as TUSD's AD. She's ready to give back to kids here. The story: https://t.co/31YTObvM2v
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 3, 2020
Embarking on retirement with Elaine — they are now grandparents — will be another chapter in House’s life of making the most out of not knowing what to expect. As history suggests, this should be another good move leading to more positive developments for House.
“Being a former collegiate athlete and then a former coach, not only in the Chicago area but California, I saw the athletics here in Tucson as something very special,” House said. “I was able to just kind of jump in and I just fit right in with the culture of athletic programs here. And the people have been tremendous here in Tucson.
“I can’t say enough about the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made. They’re very supportive and they always have great things to say about you. It’s an awesome place. I’m sure I want to retire, but it really is sad, if you think about it, for me and people that I’ve been involved with for so many years that I’m stepping away from it, so to speak. But I’ll still be in connection with them.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.