During football season, it is not uncommon for the cheerleaders and student section to hang signs showing support for their school, team and players. It is more of a rarity to find one of these signs directly supporting a coach.
Not at Alcoa.
Head coach Gary Rankin’s name is often found on the students’ wall and fence hangings. The signs signal the impact Rankin has had not only on the football team, but on Alcoa High School and the community as well.
While he is making an impact on the gridiron with the football team, it could be argued Rankin has been more instrumental at the school as an administrator.
“His reputation is second to none,” Alcoa principal Scott Porter said. “We hire someone to be a teacher, an educator, and not necessarily a football coach. We check (all prospective employees) out, and coach Rankin has been top notch everywhere he has been.
“He came to us with a bunch of education experience already - over 25 years, and I think his experience alone has given him credibility off the football field…He thinks of himself as an educator first.”
His impact, said Porter, has reached students beyond those who wear the Tornado jersey.
“He has really impacted our kids, starting with the football players, because the expectation he has for those kids is very high, so when they walk the hallways and do the right thing, it has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the students. He sets high expectations, and he wants to have a strong academic school.”
With expectations, there are usually measurable results. On the field, there are quantitative results that can be seen by looking at a stat sheet or by the number of championship rings, but it is a little different in the academic environment.
As the vice principal, one of Rankin’s main responsibilities is to be the head of discipline within the school.
“I’m trying to make Alcoa the best school I possibly can,” Rankin said, “but you can’t have a successful school without discipline.”
“Before Rankin arrived, it was a bit chaotic because there was a series of different assistant principals,” senior English teacher Pam Harrison said. “One of the main things he has brought is stability; he is a consistent disciplinarian. His impact has been nothing but positive.”
Alcoa does not have a track record as being a particularly violent or troublesome school system, but since the inception of the Rankin reign, other staff at the high school have noticed a significant difference in discipline as a whole.
“The most evident impact has been the decline in discipline referrals,” said Chad Coker, head of the freshman academy at the school. “Overall, I think he’s had a very positive effect on the school and been a great addition to the faculty.”
Getting to know his new school was Job 1, Rankin said.
“It took a while to get established. Coming in and being responsible for all of the discipline in the school, you don’t really know how the other people before you approached it,” he said. “But once the kids found out I was going to be straight by the rules and consistent across the board, they took interest in doing the right thing and that made it a lot easier. I’d say 95 percent of kids in all high schools want their school to be run the right way.
“No kid wants to be in a school that has turmoil and problems all the time. They are there to get educated and to have a great experience, and they can’t do that if there are a lot of discipline problems.
One reason students have “taken the interest in doing the right thing,” Rankin said, is respect.
No matter whom you ask in the Alcoa school system, anyone that has had interactions with Rankin or seen the effect he has had on the school immediately uses the word when asked about him. The respect comes, say his peers, with Rankin’s honesty and impartiality with those he deals with, whether he is disciplining a student, having a discussion with a parent or faculty member, or watching film with the football team.
“He definitely sets the tone and has a presence in the school that the kids respect. The faculty has been very respectful because he has brought so much experience into the school,” Porter said. “They appreciate the fact he knows how kids are and how to deal with them, also that he knows how to deal with parents and the tough situations.
“Most importantly, he has been fair to everybody, and everyone has noticed. It doesn’t matter if you are a football player, the star player, or a non-athlete, he’s going to treat you just like an average student.”
Rankin knows the whole discipline system would be undermined and be ineffective if he were to allow special privileges to his players, especially if it were for a star athlete.
“The worst thing would be for the other students to think you treat your players better than anyone else,” he said. “I try to treat all the students the same regardless of whether they are a football player, cheerleader, band member, or don’t participate in a school activity at all. They all are important children at Alcoa High School.”