Barbara Fiege, longtime coach and athletic director at Belmont High, was hired as director of interscholastic athletics for the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday, becoming the first woman to hold the position in the 138-year history of the district.
Fiege, 40, will replace Hal Harkness, whose resignation takes effect Oct. 1. Harkness held the position for seven years.
In Fiege's position as LAUSD athletic director, she also will be the commissioner of the CIF City Section, which is composed solely of schools in the district.
Fiege hopes to bring new perspective to the office because of her activism in girls' athletics as well as administrative skills honed in her 18-year career in coaching and athletic administration. Fiege will be asked to solve problems that have confronted the unique district for years.
Richard Browning, LAUSD director, senior high division, said that Fiege was hired because of her experience in athletics. Browning was involved in narrowing the candidates from the original 14 to five finalists. Last week, LAUSD Manager of School Operations Daniel Isaacs interviewed the five and selected Fiege.
Isaacs was on vacation Tuesday, so Browning made the announcement of Fiege's hiring.
"She has a very solid background, probably more extensive than most of the other candidates," Browning said. "We believe that she is a very good communicator, and we think that is an important aspect of the job."
Browning also noted that Fiege's biggest challenge in her new role will be dealing with limited funds.
"The office has been trimmed back in recent years," he said. "It's a small office and a big responsibility. You need someone who can work accurately and quickly and I think she's all those things."
Since 1986, the district's athletic budget has been trimmed more than 20%. Harkness is leaving no assistants other than two secretaries.
Fiege also will take over an office that recently has been tinged by controversy. Harkness, 54, said that he is leaving because he has "lost patience with (the district's) way of doing business."
Specifically, Harkness said that upper management had left him out of decision making when he believed his say was important.
"I'm frustrated with the point that, in essence, you are not part of the total program," Harkness said.
Fiege would not comment on that.
"I really haven't been involved at the level that Hal has been involved, so that's not something that I can comment on at this time," she said.
Fiege graduated from Northern Illinois, where she played volleyball and softball, in 1974. She began her coaching career at Dorsey High in 1975. She coached softball and volleyball there for seven years before becoming girls' basketball coach at Belmont in 1981, a position she held through last season.
In 1986, Fiege was named The Times' Central Section basketball coach of the year after leading Belmont to a 10-0 record in Northern Conference.
Fiege also has served as Belmont's athletic director since 1986 and has coached volleyball, tennis and softball there.
Fiege figures to bring her own stamp to her new position because of her active involvement in promoting girls' athletics. In 1985, she founded Coaches of Los Angeles Women's Sports. She also has served as the commissioner of the district's Sex Equity Commission since 1988.
"That is a plus that she brings to the job, but in addition to that, the most important thing is the experience she has in athletics," Browning said.
"In addition, she is a good writer, a good communicator. She has been a leader in causing things to happen, moving things forward."
Fiege downplayed the significance of being the first woman to head the district's athletics.
"I don't feel that it should be an item that is the main highlight of this appointment," she said. "I'm proud that I am the first woman. However, I really don't believe that gender at any point was an issue or is an issue anymore."
But Fiege acknowledged that girls' athletics carried a special importance for her.
"Of course, I'd be lying if I said no," she said. "And it's because of having to fight the battles that those of us in girls' sports have had to fight since Title IX. I think because we have had to fight so hard for the girls' sports, it has given me a much broader perspective.
"I feel that the district has come a long way with respect to equality. I'm not going to say it's not an issue anymore, but it has made a tremendous jump. In 1993, it's not something that is a constant battle anymore."
The City athletic director is responsible for developing schedules, arranging playoffs and representing the section on the state level. She is also responsible for interpreting rules and making decisions with respect to athletic eligibility and protests.
Fiege said the first change that she will attempt to make will be expanding advisory committees, consisting of coaches and school athletic directors, to include all sports. There are advisory committees now for some sports.