Jasper Jewell is delivering on his mission to elevate athletics in Atlanta Public Schools

Culture. How can a word be so powerful? How can the collective attitudes of high school athletics programs across the Atlanta area have so much impact on the respective schools, athletic programs, student athletes, coaches and fan bases?

And how can it all change?

Jasper Jewell, the Athletic Director of the Atlanta Public Schools, might have the answer to that. Since taking over as AD in 2014-15 after serving as the assistant AD since 2010, Jewell has worked tirelessly to improve the culture across the Atlanta Public Schools. And his work is beginning to pay dividends.

“When I came to the district in 2010, I came in and worked with a guy by the name of Jeff Beggs, who was my predecessor,” Jewell said. “The first thing that we wanted to do was change the culture of how athletics are perceived in the district and outside the district. There was a lot of work involved regarding that. But it was something that we knew we were up for the challenge, and we knew that we would embrace it 100 percent.”

And the culture shift already has helped produce state and region championships in several sports. It has allowed teams to be included in big events, with Mays competing in the Corky Kell Classic. And APS even created its own flagship football event, The Great Atlanta Bash, which will take at Georgia State Stadium in September — a triple-header between South Atlanta and Washington, Maynard Jackson and Carver-Atlanta, and Mays and New Manchester.

Since Jewell took over at AD, APS has produced 10 state championship teams, starting with Jackson-Atlanta’s girls track team in 2014-15. In 2017, Mays’ girls won the track and field state championship, South Atlanta’s boys won the basketball state championship and Drew Charter won the girls tennis title. In the past year, Drew Charter’s boys golf team made history becoming the first all-black – and first-ever APS team golf team — to win a state championship. On the basketball court in 2019, the Therrell boys and Douglass’ girls teams brought home state titles.

But it wasn’t always easy, and Jewell’s approach was a multi-pronged effort. One area was the glaring fact that facilities and equipment needed serious attention. Another focus was that coaches and athletic directors needed guidance. And finally, everyone had to buy in.

Shortly after Jewell arrived as an assistant AD, two stadiums — Grady in 2010 and Lakewood in 2012 — were renovated to enhance the environment for student athletes and fan bases. Lakewood Stadium’s renovation cost $17 million and included the addition of new lights, a sound system, stands and playing surfaces.

It also became a major factor to upgrade the equipment that each school used to provide safety for the athletes.

“We were all about safety,” Jewell said. “We wanted to make sure that our kids were playing and participating and using the best equipment that money can buy.”

And then, there was the human factor.

“We had to change the thought process and the mindset of how individuals viewed athletics here in (Atlanta Public Schools),” he said. “With that comes personnel changes, of course. You had to get some coaches and athletic directors who would buy into the vision. Our vision was to keep kids in school and keep kids active and in athletics, then the better chance you have toward graduating and being successful members of society.”

The path to getting everyone on the same page began with education through groups like the Georgia Athletics Directors Association (GADA), of which Jewell is the current president and was the 2015 Region and Class AD of the year, and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).

“After that, we wanted to begin the educational phase with our athletic directors. So what we started doing was professional development. We got them involved in organizations such as GADA and NIAAA. From there, they can be the very best athletic directors that they can possibly be. Then they can turn into great and productive role models for our head coaches. So it permeates and rolls downhill.”

In the upcoming year, Jewell will continue learning from the NIAAA after being chosen as one of two interns from across the nation to represent their respective states and districts.

“It’s the highest level you can get in terms of recognizing athletic administrators,” Jewell said. “I was one of two selected as an intern for the upcoming year. With that, I get to shadow the board of directors and work alongside the executive and associate director, and I really get to learn the NIAAA, the ins and out of the association. For me, it was huge because I love representing my district and my state.”

Coupled with the stadium renovations, new events and the continued education of its coaches and directors, the APS is on the road toward a deep, rich tradition of success at all levels. But Jewell knows the building blocks are there.

“We’ve been blessed over my tenure, since 2014-15, to win 10 state championships and roughly 70 region championships, and we’ve put more than 200 teams in the state championships and state competitions,” he explained. “We’ve also had close to 300 kids who’ve signed national letters of intent to play sports at the collegiate level. We want to make sure that we assist these kids as they go to the next level. For some, the next level may be the armed forces, it may be the work force or it may be college. But I think we are moving in the right direction because we are putting together a good product.”

And in five years what does Jewell see for athletics and APS?

“I see APS competing in all sports across the board,” he said, confidently. “We’ve done a great job building our swimming program. Our track programs have really taken off. I see more programs that will be excelling, advancing and reaching state competition. And I just see, overall, our brand will be where we want it to be. We still have a long way to go, but in a 5-year period I see APS as being one of the most recognized programs in all of the state of Georgia.”


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