"I want the best experience you can get for our young people'
“Curb appeal!” Those are the two most frequent words you hear from newly appointed Bibb County Athletic Director Barney Hester.
For more than 40 years, the former Howard High School football coach has spent his summers preparing for football games and his Friday nights in the fall on the sidelines. Now as he transitions into his new role, he admits he doesn’t know what the new normal will be like for him.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like on Friday nights,” Hester said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like when football practice starts.”
Just because he doesn’t know what life will be like without football, Hester, who was also Howard’s athletic director, recognized that this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“What I do know is that it was the right time for me to make a move,” Hester said. “The timing was right for me, we’ve got a good football team coming back at Howard so it’s not like we are leaving it in bad shape but having the opportunity to be the county-wide athletic director in Bibb County appealed to me and has appealed to me for a while.”
Hester replaces Eddie Ashley, a well-known and popular figure in Bibb athletics, who recently retired. Hester credits Ashley with making the position more attractive.
“With Eddie there’s trust, there’s knowing he’s going to do whatever he can to make the programs as good as they can be,” Hester said. “Seeing that and seeing what he’s done, I think made the position a little bit better than maybe before.”
Stressing curb appeal
Hester’s focus as he takes over is to continue that trust built by his predecessor and create more curb appeal — the latter his way of saying making stadiums more inviting and useful to fans and players.
“Curb appeal is big,” Hester said. “The way we look, the way we carry ourselves, the opportunities that we provide for our students; all of that is important to me.”
One of the first orders of business is to try and improve on obvious dilapidated outdoor facilities. Hester doesn’t hesitate when discussing where the county has thrived and where it needs to pick up the efforts.
“We are in a position where it’s time to really look at trying to improve some outdoor facilities,” Hester said. “Now the indoor facilities, our gyms, are as good as anybody’s ... but our outdoor facilities, we need to do some work on. That’s one of the things I want to see us do better.”
Hester doesn’t have to look far to see examples of improved outdoor facilities improving the morale of the programs involved with them. Neighboring counties are already ahead of the curve in this endeavor.
“Let’s take Houston County,” Hester said. “Look at Freedom Field, look at McConnell-Talbert Stadium, they are re-doing Perry’s stadium, look at the history up at Mary Persons, I think it goes back to us building that. We don’t all have our own stadiums so we have to create the best we can do in Bibb County for all of our kids to use.”
Convincing the community
Part of achieving that initiative will be community buy in. There seems to be a disconnect between the inner city high schools and the support of the outer suburban circles in the county. Hester offers a simple bridge between the two.
“We’ve got to ask. I don’t know if we’re asking,” Hester said. “We started asking when we were out at Howard and we got it. There’s parents and there’s alumni in every school in Bibb County that could get involved in those schools and make that happen.”
He doesn’t lose site of the goal which is the students’ enjoyment. Ultimately, athletics programs were created to serve the extra-curricular needs of the students and Hester knows that everything he does should be aimed towards achieving that goal.
“I got into the business a long time ago because of kids, I care about kids period,” Hester said. “Those kids are only going to go through middle and high school one time, and I want to provide the best experience for those kids we can provide.”
Three things define what Hester believes will result in that positive experience for kids: quality coaches, quality facilities, and the idea of how to carry themselves.