In every type of business, somebody has to perform the behind-the-scenes work.
Were you ever in a high school play or musical? Those behind-the-scenes workers — aka the crew — were invaluable. Truthfully, you couldn’t put on the show without them.
The same axiom holds true in the working world. You can’t even say such people do the little things, because once that person takes a rare sick day you suddenly realize just how gigantic of an impact they really make.
At the Waco ISD athletic offices, that person is Melissa Miller-Hickey.
For nearly 21 years, Miller-Hickey served as the athletic secretary for Waco ISD. Before that, she held the same post at McGregor ISD for seven years. She is reflective of all the unsung heroes who make high school sports so special — the ticket takers, the parking lot attendants, the scorebook keepers, the clock operators, the P.A. announcers, the groundskeepers. They don’t get the glory, but what would we ever do without them?
It’s a question Waco ISD is suddenly asking itself. Because on Tuesday, it was time to sing the praises of the unsung — as Miller-Hickey worked her final day.
“She is unbelievably valuable here, has a grasp of everything that goes on,” Waco ISD athletic director Johnny Tusa said. “We were talking at lunch, and she and I mentioned that somebody said, ‘You know what I like about you is that you’re prompt about everything.’ And what I like about her is that she’s already done it before I can ask her. That’s really prompt.”
Allow me to offer a pro tip to any young, aspiring sports scribes in the audience. Kids, make friends with the athletic secretaries. They’re the lifeblood of high school athletics. First of all, it won’t be hard to do, because the ones that stick are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Secondly, they know everything. They’ve got their fingers on the pulse. Need a tournament schedule emailed to you? Did you wait until the last minute to call to get on the pass list? Looking for a place to take photos of 200 area high school football players? Fear not. They’re all over it.
“She’s the voice and the face of this office most of the time, and you’ve got to have somebody there who generally cares about people, which she does, generally wants to take care of everybody in here, which she does,” Tusa said. “She’ll be missed — 20 years in an office, you can go to any athletic department in the world … and there’s always someone who is the straw that stirs the drink. She certainly fits in that category.”
If you ever called Waco ISD’s athletic number, Melissa’s was usually the first voice you’d hear. And that was a good thing. Obviously, over the years, not everybody who called in was bubbly and happy, but Melissa was adept at diffusing the ticking time bombs.
“Not every call is friendly fire,” Tusa said, chuckling.
Miller-Hickey, however, downplayed her ability as an amateur crisis negotiator.
“There hadn’t been that many (angry callers). There really hasn’t. But we calmed them down if they were (upset),” she said.
Even on her last day of work, Miller-Hickey viewed the idea that she was leaving as a little surreal. Undoubtedly, it will hit home even harder on Wednesday, when she doesn’t drive over to Waco ISD Stadium, to take her usual spot behind the front desk in the lobby.
“It is different. It’s weird. That’s all I’ve been telling everybody,” she said. “It’s a very weird thing to be able to say this.”
She won’t slow down in retirement, however. People who work as hard as she has over the years never do. But her next job absolutely guarantees she won’t get much of a break — though she’s delighted about the task ahead. She’s going to be chasing around her 21-month-old grandson Cade Harvey with regularity.
“She’s going to be babysitting and doing some things to help the family out,” Tusa said. “You hate to see anybody leave, but you’re happy when they’re leaving for a reason, when they’ve got something they feel like they need to go do. She’ll be missed.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Waco ISD athletic offices took on a party atmosphere, as Miller-Hickey’s colleagues held a reception in her honor. Various friends and family filtered in and out, including several coaches from the school district, including University football coach Rodney Smith and Waco High’s Marty Herbst.
Sure, doing the work of an athletic secretary can sometimes feel like a thankless job. But all these people knew better. Their message — and mine — to Melissa was a simple one.