Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Marmion Dambrino

The five female ADs of local school districts

Nice story, with a bit of a lesson in it.

The Houston, Katy, Klein, New Caney and Spring Branch districts all for the first time employ women as athletic directors, reflecting a new model, if not necessarily a new path, to the top in interscholastic administration.

Like their male counterparts and predecessors, Debbie Decker (Katy), Teresa Anderson (Klein), Paige Hershey (Spring Branch) and Marmion Dambrino (Houston) all advanced through the ranks after years as coaches or administrators. Pamela Lea (New Caney) is in her first AD’s job after years as an assistant AD in Fort Worth.

“All the old guys are retiring,” said Rusty Dowling, Decker’s predecessor at Katy, “and districts are moving away from the model where the football coach who had the most success and was first to retire became AD if the job was open. That still happens, but some districts are taking a different look at the position.

“There are so many challenges for ADs, whether it’s finances or staffing or budgets, that having a successful record on the football field is no longer a prerequisite. A coaching background helps, but a lot of districts are looking for an administrator with a business component.”


Each of the five female ADs – plus Krista Malmstrom, who shares the title in Humble with Troy Kite – took a different path to the job. All, however, had male mentors who saw leadership qualities in them, and all benefited from the increased importance placed on girls sports since the advent 40 years ago of Title IX, the federal statute requiring equal opportunities in federally funded institutions.

I noted Dambrino’s hiring here. I like the fact that all these women were mentored along the way. Diversity and equal opportunity isn’t just about broadening your talent pool, it’s also about identifying and investing in the talent you have. However you look at it, it’s good news about some trailblazing women. May many more follow in their footsteps.

Hard times for high school athletics

High school football may be a big deal in Texas, but high school sports are not immune to budget cuts.

With school districts across the state facing major budget cuts, members of the Texas High School Athletic Directors Association met for their annual conference with a focus on finding ways to limit expenses.

The attending athletic directors said it was nice to see they weren’t alone in their budgetary struggles.

“It’s not that misery loves company by any means,” Houston ISD athletic director Marmion Dambrino said. “But it is good to know and listen to ideas of how others are dealing with these budget issues. It’s all about how creative we can become with what it is that we are doing.”


UIL executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt spoke on Tuesday about the attention athletics receive during budget cuts because of the publicity the programs receive. School boards also debate the stipends coaches receive when expenses have to be cut.

“I want to give them the message of hope,” Breithaupt said. “Why things are bleak financially across the state and across the national, parents and kids still want to participation in athletic programs. Really, athletics are the biggest bang for your buck that a school district can get. Research shows that students who participate in athletics attend school more regularly, focus in the classroom and have fewer discipline referrals.

“Knowing all of that, what better program can you have than that at a school?”

I appreciate his passion for the job, but I’m sure you could say the same about a school’s music department, and we know what will happen with them. You know that my preference is for there to be no cuts, but that’s not a possibility. Given that, athletics will have to shoulder their fair share of the burden. I wish the ADs luck in figuring out how to make the most they can from less.

Marmion Dambrino

A little history was made in HISD last week.

For more than 20 years, Marmion Dambrino has spent countless hours impacting students and student-athletes in Houston ISD. On Friday, she reached the district’s top position in athletics.

Houston ISD named Dambrino its newest athletic director on Friday, making her the first female athletic director in the history of the district. She has worked in the district’s athletic department since 2005 and has been its Senior Athletic Program Administrator since 2007 under former athletic director Daryl Wade. Wade left on July 9 to become the director of the Astros’ Urban Youth Academy.

“It’s a dream come true,” Dambrino said. “It’s a true honor for me.”

Dambrino, 49, has been in HISD since 1988 and has served a myriad of roles from coaching to teaching to academic administration. She has coached in Aldine ISD and Houston ISD and has also served as a secondary assistant principal, associate principal and dean of students in HISD.


Dambrino said one of her primary goals is increasing athletics participation in the district as well as continuing to increase the number of scholarships the district’s student-athletes earn annually.

Wade said Dambrino is dedicated to the district.

“She eats and sleeps Houston ISD athletics,” Wade said. “She stays on the job 24-7. I felt all along that she was the best one for the job and I’m proud that the district took this step. She’s going to do what’s best for the district and right for the kids.”

Sounds like she’s a great fit for the job. As the story notes, three area ISDs also have female athletic directors, but Dambrino is the first for HISD. Congratulations!