Football coach turned Athletic Director aims to create positive community

The coach-turned-teacher Nelson Gifford, who has led the Vikings football program since June 2018 has taken on the position of athletic director after former AD Therren Wilburn left at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. 

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Football coach turned Athletic Director aims to create positive community

Photo: Kaahini Jain

Photo: Kaahini Jain

Photo: Kaahini Jain

Photo: Kaahini Jain

Gracia Hmelar and Kaahini Jain

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A new athletic director will occupy the office of Palo Alto High School’s athletic director this fall at Palo Alto High School, the third AD Paly has had in the past three years. 

The coach-turned-teacher Nelson Gifford, who has led the Vikings football program since June 2018 has taken on the position of athletic director after former AD Therren Wilburn left at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. 

When The Paly Voice caught up with the new AD earlier this week in his office, Gifford said that while some traits of coaching still apply to his new job, the role differs with regard to matters related to administrative aspects and with matters relating to overall attention to all sports, not just football and communication with different programs within Paly.

“I’m meeting with the boosters,” Gifford said. “Meeting with local business owners to see how they can help support our programs here, and working with other outside organizations or campus organizations, that everyone here feels connected.”

According to Gifford, hiring supportive coaches, engaging with the athletes across the Paly athletic program they need, and creating an open environment are just a few of the goals Gifford has for this year. 

“I want this[participating in sports at Paly] to be just an incredibly positive and fun experience,” Gifford said. “Students have the power to turn i into what they want it to be, and I would really like to see really good student leadership. We want people to walk through the doors and see our gym and go “wow” and then when they see our fans go, ‘Oh, that’s amazing, this is just a fantastic place to be and it is so much to show.”’ 

While Gifford formerly solely oversaw Paly’s football program, he is now the head of all Paly athletics, a job that, according to Gifford, comes with a lot of responsibility.

“I think the big change between the two jobs is the spectrum of oversight that comes with being athletic director, as a head football coach, my responsibility involves everything from getting equipment to deciding what plays are best to run,” Gifford said. 

Previous to Gifford, Therren Wilburn held the title for two years from spring 2017 to spring 2019.

The inconsistency in AD has affected some students, leaving them feeling uncertain about the organization of games and practice. Senior Anna Tomz said she has high hopes for the new AD and the rest of the school year.

“I think that Paly Athletics is doing a good job of keeping things running smoothly through the process of hiring a new AD and figuring out who the coaches will be for the 2019-20 season,” Tomz said. “I think that this has put a little bit of a strain on athletes due to the uncertainty of the season, but I am confident that once the season starts the athletes and coaches will get back into the groove of things.”

Relating to the Paly-Gatos ban that was implemented last spring, after multiple occurrences of poor sportsmanship at games between both Paly and Los Gatos students, Gifford said the ban has since been changed and hopes for better sportsmanship from both schools. 

“The ban’s been lifted, and we had a student summit last spring,” Gifford said. “I think there’s going to be a follow-up one before the basketball season, but I think those conversations have been really important to ease some of the tension between the two schools.” 

Gifford said that although the ban did put a stop to students attending sports games, most importantly, it made many students realize the consequences of their behavior online and in person. 

 “Students are more aware of the consequences of either what happens online or if it carries over into the real world,” Gifford said. “I think everybody wants to be there, and no one wants to be the person who was the reason no one can attend the game.”