“What I think it gives me is a lot of insight in terms of some of the challenges for running programs in Rural Alaska,” Strickland says.
His Southern drawl is deceiving. He moved to Bethel when he was just 14 and he’s been here ever since except for when he left for college. Upon returning to the area he immediately got involved in coaching. It started with Native Youth Olympics for five years but he says he probably knows basketball better than anything other sport because he’s had a hand in coaching that on and off for 22 years.
“It’s a bug,” Strickland says. “When you coach you coach because you can’t not coach, almost. It’s a mission.”
For the past 12 years Strickland has also been the Dean of Students and Activities Director for Bethel Regional High School. Before that he taught high school social studies and accounting.
As ASAA executive director, he will manage seven staff and be responsible for authorizing 33 activities across Alaska.
Gary Matthews is retiring as ASAA’s director after 21 years.
“I think it’s the best job in the state,” Matthews says.
Matthews says the organization is often linked with sports and for good reason. It sponsors all high school championships throughout the state except for NYO. They certify coaches and license about 1,000 sport officials a year but Matthews says they do a lot more than that.
“We sponsor and oversee the student government association, we have two statewide music festivals,” Matthews says. “We have a debate, drama, and forensics state championship. We have a rural language declamation or people used to call [it] foreign language, which is a contest where kids recite poetry in certain languages and answer questions. We also have the only on-line all-state art competition in the country.”
Strickland was chosen by the organization’s board of directors and Matthews thinks they made the right choice. He says Strickland’s Rural Alaska background will be an asset.
“And the statewide perspective, that’s a big thing,” Matthews says. “Having a broad perspective and an appreciation for what goes on all over the state is very important. I think Billy brings that to the job.”
It won’t be easy for Strickland to leave Bethel. He says he’s leaving behind a job that he loves.
“I’d always kind of envisioned when I retired that I would be the blubbering idiot on the back of the plane leaving Bethel not knowing when I would be coming back,” Strickland says, joking.
He does know, at least for the next school year, he will be visiting because his daughter and wife will stay here through his daughter’s senior year. He also knows that he will be seeing many local students when they make their way to statewide competitions in Anchorage.