Steve Tamanaha spends hours most every Sunday paddling through ocean currents on an outrigger canoe. Just entering his third month as the latest Orange Coast College athletic director, he may be drifting into even more challenging seas.
"It's a very difficult time for athletics," said Tamanaha, who began July 16 as the replacement for Barbara Bond, who retired at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
State budget cuts and a continuing recession have already pared programs at the community college level. A 40% cut in counseling programs at OCC last spring, in fact, helped lead Tamanaha, a director of several counseling programs at the school since 2006, to his newest assignment.
In many ways, Tamanaha, a former high school athlete who has coached basketball at OCC, Golden West, Saddleback and Grossmont community colleges, is right where he wants to be.
"Because of the restructuring, there were several assignments that were offered to me," Tamanaha said. "But this is the one I wanted. I jumped at the chance and I was excited to do it."
Tamanaha, 57, said OCC has held a place in his heart since he earned his associate arts degree there in the early 1970s. A former football and tennis player at Bolsa Grande High, he did not compete in athletics as a collegian. But he has always believed that the athletic culture is developmentally beneficial.
"I've always been involved in athletics and always enjoyed it," Tamanaha, an Irvine resident who was born in Hawaii, said. "It's a great opportunity to work with coaches, who are the hardest working people around with the hours they spend on their programs. And, I get to be around and work with young people who are very motivated, not only to win games, but also to compete and improve themselves both physically and mentally."
Tamanaha said his primary role is to support his coaches, but he believes his counseling background may also help him create greater awareness among the student-athletes about the resources available to help them succeed beyond the competitive arena.
Tamanaha met with every fall sports team and spoke about many issues, such as eligibility and decorum. He also stressed the availability of tutoring, financial aid and other support systems. He encouraged athletes to ask their coaches about getting help, or even stop by his office, located between the gym and the locker rooms.
"The No. 1 part of my decision making process is 'How will this affect the student-athlete?' " Tamanaha said.
Tamanaha was a 5-foot-6, 150-pound linebacker who also played running back and offensive guard.
"I was feisty," he said of his playing days, which ended, he noted, because of too many concussions. "I was the one who made everyone shut up if we lost a game. As a small linebacker, when everybody stood up, it was hard to read where the ball was. I had to [line up] deeper, read and react faster."
Tamanaha may have to react to a shifting landscape that could ultimately threaten the viability of community college athletics.
"We have a commitment from our district to make sure all the programs on this campus, including athletics, are still viable and funded," Tamanaha said. "That's for this year and maybe next year. We don't know about the year after that."
Tamanaha said secondary effects from budget cuts already include athletes losing eligibility when they are unable to get into classes necessary to maintain the required 12 units, because fewer class sessions are offered. He also said the difficult economic climate has increased the numbers of students who require financial aid.
Ultimately, the removal of "activity classes," such as basketball, swimming, fitness and strength labs, as well as other electives such as fine arts and music, may make it difficult to maintain full-time coaches who often supplement their sports duties by teaching such classes.
And, he said, there may soon come a time when significant funding for athletics will need to come from corporate sponsorships and other fundraising.
Tamanaha said since he began his second career in counseling in 1999 — he had been general manager of a 110-empoyee landscaping maintenance company — he has tried to return to Orange Coast.
"I went to UC Irvine first out of high school, but I didn't like it there and I came back to OCC, before transferring to Cal State Fullerton [where he earned his bachelors degree in English]," Tamanaha said. "I really enjoyed my time here and for anybody who came here at that time, I think they look back with great memories of this school."
He is now hoping to enhance those memories for OCC student-athletes.