Written by Fred Chang ‘19
Nearly five months after Durham Academy athletic director Steve Engebretsen announced his plans to step down, the search for his successor has finally come to a close. The role will be tough to fill, as Engebretsen has held the position for the last 28 years and was recognized as one of the most accomplished athletic directors in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association ever.
Current Assistant Director of Athletics, Sports Information Director and coach of DA’s two-time state champion girls tennis team Andy Pogach was selected as the new athletic director. Despite his 11 years of experience on DA’s courts, the position was not a given.
Pogach’s desire to become an athletic director was built up over the course of his entire career. Though he thought he wanted to stay involved in college athletics after his time at the University of Pennsylvania and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Pogach quickly found a new love for high school sports.
“My first job out of graduate school was as an AD [athletic director] at a very small private school in Cary, and then immediately I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” said Pogach. “I think if you’re involved in college athletics from the administration side, you’re not as involved with the students on a daily basis, but on the high school side, you have the ability to impact more people directly at this level.”
Thus, when Engebretsen broke the news in October 2018, Pogach didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity. Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner opened up an extensive interview process and nationwide search that resulted in 80-100 initial applicants. Once the pool of applicants were narrowed down to four, the candidates began an even more detailed process with interviews involving parents, coaches, administrators and teachers. To Pogach’s delight, the newly formed Student Life Advisory Board (SLAB), consisting of student representatives from each grade, also interviewed the final candidates.
“To me, that was actually the neatest part of the whole process,” he said. “I think that was the first time they’ve ever interviewed a candidate, and they did a very good job. It was a lot of fun to interact with the students and answer their questions because that’s what this position is here for.”
Senior representative and co-founder of SLAB Spencer Sapir spoke highly of Pogach’s commitment to student-athletes on and off the field. “The one thing that really stuck out to me in Mr. Pogach’s interview was his sole focus on the student,” said Sapir. “Every idea he presented could be directly tied back to the students, athletes and their families. Ultimately, what I took away from his interview was his innate desire to provide an incredible athletic experience for every DA student.”
Though ideas for the coming years are still being “thrown out there” within the athletic department, Pogach’s future plans are undoubtedly centered around increasing support and leadership opportunities for all DA student-athletes. He doesn’t officially start serving as DA’s Athletic Director until July 1.
One specific change Pogach hopes to make is an increase in student managers because “even though they’re not playing, they’re still an important part of the team,” he said.
In addition to increasing the number of managers, Pogach intends on providing more resources to team captains to strengthen and clarify their roles as leaders.
“There are some really good leadership programs at Duke and UNC, and we want to use bits and pieces from them and tailor them into high school sports,” said Pogach. “We just want to give our captains strategies and make sure they know what it means to be a captain.”
Pogach also plans on holding more joint practices between DA’s teams to further “use athletics as a way to unite the school.”
For example, the Middle School has two boys soccer teams, the “white team” and the “green team,” due to consistently high student interest and varying levels of experience. Though the teams play different levels of competition and are referred to as separate teams, by holding more joint practices, Pogach hopes all the athletes recognize that they represent DA Middle School soccer as a whole.
Most importantly, however, Pogach aims to unite the whole school in supporting DA athletes and ensure that they all have positive experiences playing for DA.
“Our students aren’t just basketball players,” Pogach said. “I want to stress the importance of playing for your school and what wearing the DA jersey means beyond wins and losses, but we also need to understand the pressure students are under. Even if a student isn’t getting minutes, you want that student to say, ‘I love wearing the DA jersey.’”