SPRINGFIELD – Growing up in foster care with multiple families, Audrea Shelley spent a lot of time looking for home. Born in Eureka, Calif. – the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland – Shelley lived the majority of her childhood prior to fifth grade in foster homes. She then spent almost three years in Powers, Ore., living with her biological father. Finally, in eighth grade, Shelley found her forever home.
“Two months into eighth grade I ended up getting taken in by a family here in Springfield,” Shelley said. “The dad was a pastor of a church here, and so they took me in and they became my family and my parents and raised me.”
Shelley attended Springfield High School and has been the athletic director there going on 19 years – though it wasn’t a quick journey back to her alma mater.
A positive byproduct of Shelley’s tough upbringing was that it gave her a sense of clarity of what direction she wanted to take her career.
“I knew from pretty early in high school that I wanted to be a teacher. I think it was just because of my upbringing, and not having huge support at home. Seeing what teachers and coaches did for me as a kid, the difference that they made in my life,” Shelley said. “Those coaches and teachers being such an influential part in my life, I felt like that was something that I wanted to be a part of to help kids.”
Shelley was a basketball star at Springfield, and had a chance to play collegiately right away, but instead decided to enlist in the U.S. Army and go overseas first.
“The Army came in because of the G.I. Bill. The family that took me in and became my family and parents, in my mind they didn’t really buy into putting me through college,” Shelley said. “Even though I was going to be able to go to Lane for free, after that I was going to be responsible for college. I went into the military so they didn’t have a responsibility or any financial hardship in trying to put me through school.”
Shelley spent about 10 months abroad in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Taking part in the Gulf War – the U.S.’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – was a privilege, Shelley said.
“There’s a pride that comes with serving your country and being a part of something that’s bigger than you. I have a very strong foundation in where I come from, and I’m proud of that,” Shelley said. “Even from my childhood where I was in foster homes, we’re all dealt a hand, you know, and we choose how we play it, so being over there was a pride thing for me.”
That said, Shelley accepted an early out, deciding she was ready to start college. She went to Lane Community College and played basketball for two years, then went to Southern Oregon University, where she earned a bachelors in health and physical education.
Then in 1998, Shelley was hired as a health teacher in Springfield – at her former rival Thurston High School.
Miller for life
It was at Thurston that she was next-door teaching neighbors with Chris Reiersgaard, who became the principal at Springfield in 2003.
“I spent five years at Thurston with a really good friend of mine now,” she said of Reiersgaard. “I taught in the health wing and he taught health as well right next door to me. He ended up deciding to go into admin, and he ended up being the principal (at Springfield),” Shelley said. “He called me one day and said, ‘Hey, come over, I have a head girls basketball position opening up.’ So I transferred schools and came over and worked for him, teaching health and PE here and was the head girls basketball coach.”
Reiersgaard said he brought Shelley over to Springfield for multiple reasons, including the fact SHS was her former school.
“She was a Springfield Miller, that’s number one. And then we just had a good friendship. Back then she was a basketball coach, and Springfield had a basketball opening,” Reiersgaard said. “So for me, it was a no-brainer, kind of a natural fit for her to come back home. And I knew she connected really, really well with the kids, she had the playing experience … and I didn’t really think much about it. It just seemed like a natural fit.”
While Shelley and Reiersgaard made their way over to Springfield, Bill Bowers was on his way out. Bowers was the Springfield athletic director from 1995-2003, and was inducted into the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Hall of Fame in ’14.
Matt Binkerd, then the football coach at SHS, took over as A.D. briefly, and when Binkerd left to go to Sheldon before the 2005 school year, Shelley was the first one Reiersgaarad thought of to be replacement.
“We looked around internally first, to see who we had that would want to step up, and had the qualifications that you think can do that job,” Reiersgaard said. “One of the things you want to have is head coaching experience, because you’re gonna be running coaches meetings, and you have to be a resource to a coach, first and foremost. She checked a lot of boxes that way.”
Shelley said the job was on her radar as well during Binkerd’s tenure.
“The transition was actually pretty smooth. There was obviously still an interview process and all that stuff of being interviewed and being selected to have that job,” Shelley said. “But the minute I knew Matt was leaving, that was in my vision. So everything I did, every decision I made was based on the fact that I was hoping to fill that role.”
Taking over the SHS athletic program was not only a career milestone, it was the cherry on top, she said.
“It’s a blessing. I feel very fortunate to serve the population of kids that we have. I sit down and I talk with some of these kids that are struggling, and it’s like a flashback of myself and my friends,” Shelley said. “It’s not every day that people have an opportunity to come back to somewhere that was so impactful for them. I get to give back in a way that a lot of people don’t get a chance to.”
Reiersgaard said that “everybody has that dream of going home right, going to Camelot,” and the fact Shelley made her way back home is a testament to her and the program.
“She’s just approachable. So I think having a person that connects with kids is so key. And I think her being at Springfield High School, she’s happy. I think she’s really happy. I know that there’ve been a handful of schools who have reached out to her to be the A.D., to cross the river and work for 4J,” Reiersgaard said. “She loves Springfield, she really loves Springfield. So I think it’s a great thing that you can get an alumni to come back. And, for all sorts of reasons, it gives you a little bit of credibility in the community as well.”
Credibility in the community is a plus of being an alumni who returns home, but so is an intricate knowledge of the hurdles that Springfield students face on a daily basis. Shelley and Reiersgaard both discussed the struggles around home life and money that many other schools don’t have to worry about. Shelley knows those struggles because she lived through them.
“I try to see from somebody else’s eyes, try to see from a different point of view. What I think people don’t understand, and it’s not just at Springfield, is we don’t know what kids are going home to, or feeding themselves at night,” Shelley said. “I tend to draw to our kids that struggle a little bit more, that maybe have some situations going on, outside influences that are creating their behavior patterns.”
It’s why early on in her A.D. career, after her secretary Jody Barnhart started a snack zone, Shelley started a food pantry at the school for students who might not get the required nutrition otherwise.
“Probably my second or third year in, I started a thing within our programs where we had a kind of a food pantry down in the PE department. It wasn’t really a pantry, but we had a place where kids could go and get food during the day,” Shelley said. “I knew some kids weren’t eating, so we try to make it available for them to eat. Now it’s ballooned into something even bigger, where we have nutrition breaks, and we have nutrition bars and all kinds of stuff in the attendance office.”
Staying focused on the students well-being has always been at the top of Shelley’s list.
“The first priority are students. We’re student-based and student-focused,” Shelley said. “A lot of it is putting out fires around kids that are struggling, kids that have stuff going on in their lives that you’re trying to figure out.”
It seems her student-focused initiatives pay off in the eyes of her students.
“She’s always been a magnet for the students, I mean the kids just liked her. They kind of migrated to her, and she had a way to connect with them,” Reiersgaard said.
Work ethic and balance
Being an athletic director is a lot more than just supervising events. It’s helping coaches schedule games, gathering funding, ensuring students are being successful in the classroom, and lots more.
Lots of the job is just putting out fires that pop up every day, and Reiersgaard said that being an A.D. isn’t an hourly job. You get out what you put in.
“It’s hard to manage, it really is hard to manage, but she does an excellent job, and it’s because of her work ethic,” Reiersgaard said. “If you tried to ho-hum it and just do as little as you can, then things would stack up. She definitely puts in the time.”
Shelley said the work was difficult to manage, and that for much of her early career she struggled with the balance of home and work life, but at this point she’s able to keep work and home separate.
“That balance, I didn’t do a very good job of that probably my first 10 years. I would just grab my daughter and bring her to the football field with me, and I didn’t balance that as well. I think I’m better at that now,” Shelley said. “Now when I’m home, I’m actually present where before I would get home, but I would work. You have to make sure that you have some time to yourself, otherwise, you get burnout. It’s a job that’s really easy to get burned out on.”
A unique aspect of being an A.D. is how present you are to the parents, fans and community members.
“You’re balancing so many things, and I always call it exposure. The amount of exposure the school’s athletic director has, I think, is more than even a principal,” Reiersgaard said, joking that a principal never has 1,000 people in an auditorium judging the calculus teacher. “When something happens at a game, she’s gonna be the first one to get a phone call. They don’t call the principal too much to complain about something, they call the athletic director.”
Looking forward, Shelley said she wants every year to be better than the next. Whether that’s small facilities upgrades or new uniforms, it’s important for the Springfield students to feel good and have the pride that comes with representing their school.
“I tell all of our athletes, all of our kids, ‘Leave your mark.’ When you go somewhere, leave your mark, be special, be a trendsetter, and be the person that leaves a trail,” Shelley said. “My goal is making sure that all kids know that they’re welcome. All kids feel safe here. And they feel pride in where they come from, you know, being a Springfield Miller, being proud to come from Springfield.”
Pride is big to Shelley. She found that pride when she was a student at Springfield, and she wants to instill that same pride in the next generation.
“When I leave here and I retire, I want to make sure that I’ve made a change in the lives of kids, and in the way kids feel,” Shelley said. “I would hope that the kids leave here with that sense that we were good to them, we respected them, and we treated them well.”