Sunday, May 28, 2017 | 2:01 a.m.
The best piece of advice Ray Mathis dispenses to young athletes might also be the simplest.
“Try, participate, get involved,” Mathis said. “A lot of kids have talent and they don’t choose to go out and use it or try. If you don’t get involved, it’s kind of like the lottery: If you don’t play, you can’t win. I would tell kids to definitely go out.”
Mathis personified his message of effort through a 40-year career in education and interscholastic sports. The past 37 years were spent in Southern Nevada, where Mathis, a Tennessee native, recently retired from his post as the Clark County School District’s executive athletic director.
Before being in charge of it all, Mathis tried almost everything in local high school athletics — holding virtually every position. He was an elementary school physical education teacher after the Air Force initially brought him to town, and he soon began volunteering as a baseball, basketball and track and field coach in the 1970s at schools such as Rancho and Valley.
From there, Mathis became a vice principal and athletic director at various stops before crossing into administration full time with the school district and the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.
“I would much rather be remembered as a coach who worked with kids than as an administrator, somebody who gave you bad news,” he said. “That’s what you have to do when you’re an administrator, like it or not: give a lot of bad news to coaches and kids, saying, ‘No you can’t play, you don’t have the grades.’ ”
Mathis developed a reputation for standing up for what he believed was right, a stubbornness that might have left him momentarily unpopular at times but ultimately widely respected. Mathis doesn’t consider disciplinary rulings and regulatory actions his greatest achievements, though.
Those are reserved for accomplishments like improving officials’ performance and pay, and adding girls’ flag football to the county’s athletic offerings. More than anything, Mathis has tried to keep in mind what was best for student-athletes.
"What drew me back to education was being around the kids,” he said. “When you’re around kids, you have the tendency to get pumped up and to be younger.”