HEBRON -- There's moments when John Steinhilber is putting a state championship medal around the neck of a student-athlete and he can see it in their eyes.
"Every once in a while, there's one of those kids who's just losing it, and it makes me do the same," Steinhilber said. "It means so much, just knowing the grind of it. Those are lifelong memories for them. What they don't realize it is for us, too. I've never been able to make it past the semistate, so at least I know now what the medals look like. It would be nice to put one around my neck."
That day may still yet come from the Hebron baseball coach, but for now, being a medals presenter at Indiana High School Athletic Association state championships stands as one of the perks of the position for the Hawks Athletics Director, who was recently selected to his second term as a member of the organization's board of directors and executive committee.
"Soccer in the fall, I gave out the trophy," Steinhilber said. "They were just so excited. That stuff is awesome. At state golf, the girl from Lapel (Macy Beeson), I was watching them (in the clubhouse) as it got close, they knew there was a chance (she would win). I watch that on TV (at the Masters), but to see it in person, that was pretty dang cool. I did football the previous two years, that was one of the coolest things ever. That (state) wrestling parade is nuts. I'd never seen that before. The year I went, (Hebron) had a wrestler there, so I got to see (Hawks coach) Todd (Adamczyk) experience it for the first time."
It's not all trophy and medal ceremonies for Steinhilber, who replaced former Wheeler principal Don Gandy as a District 1 Class 2A representative in 2018. He was the board president last year and is currently the executive board vice chairman as well as a member of the hearings committee.
"I just thought, this is a great opportunity to represent our school and our conference, and it's paid me back in so many ways that I never even thought of," Steinhilber said. "It's been the experience of my career to be able to serve the IHSAA in this capacity. I look at it as an honor to serve on those committees. I can't lie, I was nervous, maybe sometimes I still am, but everybody in the IHSAA office, it's nice to work with them and get to know them. They all made us feel comfortable. I have some lifelong friends that I have developed on the board. I didn't set out to do that." Like the average athlete, coach, A.D. or even fan, Steinhilber had perceptions of the IHSAA when he was on the outside of the inner workings.
"I think a lot of times (the IHSAA) is portrayed as sitting in Indianapolis telling everybody what to do," he said. "That can't be further from the truth. Any of the commissioners know what's going on. (Commissioner) Paul (Neidig)'s from Evansville, but he knows what's going on up here. They don't take days off. They're in this with us. That perspective is something I didn't realize. I don't believe any of us go in with any preconceived notions. It's not a rubber stamp. We are there to serve the membership and we act on what the IHSAA brings to us. We want to do what's best for kids. WSe just have to act on what the by-laws are as written by the schools. It's a slippery slope sometimes."
The role has also helped Steinhilber develop a big picture outlook that extends beyond the scope of his job at Hebron.
"Even though we get (A.D.) training, we don't understand some things," he said. "(Former secretary) Sue Spurr kind of molded me and I needed that. It was great. I always used to check on things, but I've actually learned the by-laws more than I thought I ever would. That's our bible. My understanding of boards has changed. I got a piece of advice from Paul, when he was an assistant commissioner, that really changed my outlook on things; you can't always look at it for what's best for your school. We would like to host sectionals every year, but it's not always right for us to host it. The best thing is to get it in a central location. We have to get the right venue for the kids."
Though he remains a coach, Steinhilber doesn't view officiating through the same lens he once did.
"I was in the trenches for 19 years," he said. "As a coach, you try to do what's best for your kids and sometimes, your thinking is one-sided. It's been really rewarding to see that side of it, to interact with (officials), to get to know them from a different point of view. My outlook has gotten a lot better. To see a Northwest Indiana (official) at the state finals in any sport is pretty cool to me. You get the realization they're here for kids, too, which doesn't always resonate."
Maybe the greatest benefit of the positions is the networking, whether locally with Ed Gilliland of La Porte or Stacey Adams of Valparaiso or state-wide with Chris Conley of Delta, Matt Martin of Knightstown and Martin Brown of North Vermillion.
"We share documents amongst schools," Steinhilber said. "Ed will say, this is what I use, and I'll use it. It's not something I'm copyrighting. Coming up with COVID guidelines, we're sharing ideas. Stacey, being so close, I've known him for long time, I bounce ideas off him. I spend 10 minutes with Chris, I feel like I've learned something and I hope he would feel the same. Matt and Martin Brown have helped me the most. Being similar schools, we share ideas all the time. It's nice to know what we're doing, they're doing that three hours away, so we must be doing it right. Any time we have a question, there's a network we can tap into and, in turn, I believe we try to do the same with people around us.
Steinhilber, who will officially begin his second term in July, commiserates with his colleagues on how much more difficult athletic administration has become since COVID changed the world back in March.
"The No. 1 question I probably get is, are we going to shut down?" he said. "I've not heard anything like that. People still think we'll do something. Anything like that is going to come from the governor. In a regular year, it's hard. I wouldn't want to be a first-year AD during this time. It's really pressed everybody's stress levels. I think we're all strained in this time we're in. Every day, we're doing what's best for kids. I serve District 1. I'm just trying to be a liaison to help."
Hebron Athletic Director John Steinhilber, pictured with North Vermillion's Martin Brown at the 2019 baseball state finals, has been elected to his second term on the IHSAA Board of Directors. (Photo Provided)