By Chris Dailey
Ms. Marni Henry-Parks, Wall’s new athletic director, has used a fresh mindset and attitude to insert life back into the Wall athletic department when it needed it most.
She has been visible throughout the gyms, fields and hallways for the Crimson Knights after being introduced amid a hazing scandal surrounding the football team and dark days for the Wall High School.
None of it, however, fazed her.
“My philosophy coming in was I am going to meet with the interview team, see what they are looking for, and then how could I or would I fit in,” Ms. Henry-Parks said. “And when I sat down in that interview – a 9-person interview – I felt like I was at home because my strengths have always been team building, the mental and emotional component. Athletics is great, but I want kids to feel good about themselves. I want people to know their value. Mental health is a huge thing and, when I came in here, I always wanted to see how I can help, how I can promote and how I can show the awesome things the kids are doing. Leaving that interview, I was like ‘oh my gosh, this is where I’m needed and where I fit in.’ That’s how it all happened and I purposely didn’t ask for names, ask for stories, I want to come in fresh because I wanted my experience to be completely authentic.”
From team-building activities with the soccer teams to being at every basketball game possible, no matter the level, and visibility for each and every student in the program, Ms. Henry-Parks has instilled culture with the Crimson Knights.
One of her main strategies for doing this is her Twitter page she established (@wallathletics) where she live streams many games and gives reports on all the amazing athletes in the Crimson Knights’ program.
“If you are insecure or have anxiety, that’s normal,” she said. “It’s nothing to hide, it's our human experience. How can we lean on each other; that’s what athletics does. It’s a family. It’s about not just winning championships but making a family and becoming a happy, healthy individual.”
Ms. Henry-Parks cares and gives the student-athletes yet another figure they can feel comfortable talking to if need be.
“I have greatly enjoyed Ms. Henry’s time here at the high school,” said Wall junior Colin Roarty, member of the soccer, wrestling and track teams. “I believe she’s made a positive influence not only on the teams I am a part of but all of them. She goes to great lengths to help teams such as posts on Twitter and taking far drives to watch games and matches. She has made a great impact this year because athletes look forward to her coming to events and enjoy everything she has done so far.”
With a background in sports and attributing much of her journey before becoming Wall’s athletic director to her overcoming obstacles through sports, Ms. Henry-Parks said she knows what it means to be a kid, have struggles, and use sports to navigate through them.
Apart from working with the high school’s student-athletes, Ms. Henry-Parks role as athletic director also sees her dive into other areas of health and physical education within the district.
“I’m also helping out with health and physical education, particularly with the teachers as far as supervision and doing observations,” she said. “There are a lot of different pieces, but I have two assistant ADs at the middle school that are running the day-to-day operations being able to supervise everything and oversee. I’m helping them out when bigger issues arise. They have a scoreboard that's broken. There are so many things that need to get done; number one is eligibility. Does every kid have their paperwork in? Are they cleared academically? All these other components. Then what do we need to keep the kids safe in terms of field equipment and space.
Ms. Henry-Parks was born in Toms River and spent her high school years at Toms River South before Rowan University where she played field hockey as well as lacrosse.
“I played softball, there weren’t a lot of travel club teams,” she said. “Softball was really the only thing for females. So I started playing when I was about 10 or 11, my dad was my coach, and, in high school, I played field hockey, softball and basketball. Those were my big things. In college, I played field hockey. I was kinda over with softball, burned out. Also, my head field hockey coach was the lacrosse coach, so I also played lacrosse at Rowan.”
It was her sense of belonging in sports that propelled her to work within the athletics department field.
“Growing up I knew what my experiences were and athletics gave me direction and purpose,” Ms. Henry-Parks said. “I remember my coaches and teammates every step of the way. Debbie Dietrich is the head of health and phys. ed. for the Toms River School District. She was my freshman field hockey coach and I started playing and had an older sister that was great at everything. I struggled. I hated high school, I hated middle school. The bullying. And now you guys have to deal with it every day. But my coaches and teammates were the ones that basically showed me that I matter and that me just showing up and trying is great. That’s why I went into this profession.”
For Ms. Henry-Parks, visibility and transparency are everything. She did something not many people would do, she chose to see Wall High School for the good it possesses and all of the hard-working administration, teachers and students who are trying each and every day to make it a better place.
“I look into my kids and see how their experiences with athletics helped build them and make connections,” Ms. Henry-Parks said. “As a mom, I say ‘What can I do as an AD to support them?’ When any kid comes into my office, I try to treat you not as my own child but as a mom and find out where your head is, what do you need and what is your challenge? I’m going to fail, but I know how important it is to have somebody show interest in me and see me and you guys are at such a critical time in your life.”
Located in the B hallway of the high school, the AD’s office is a safe haven for students who want to be heard, listened to and understood, and that is all a large testament to the outstanding work Ms. Henry-Parks has done in first school year at Wall.