Former Eastern High Athletic Director Joe Rogers
Former Eastern High Athletic Director Joe Rogers with his family

Former Eastern High Athletic Director Joe Rogers Gets Special Honor

The life of a high school athletic director (AD) varies from day to day, but not many would consider it a glamorous enterprise. Hiring coaches, checking student-athletes’ grades, scheduling games with other schools, arranging buses for away games, purchasing athletic equipment, cutting the grass on fields – the responsibilities can feel endless, often with little reward or commendation. But an AD plays an important role in setting the athletic tone of the school. In late February 2024, Joe Rogers, who served as Eastern High School’s AD in the early 1990s, was honored in a special ceremony for his many years of dedication to the school’s athletic programs.

Mike Horan, an alum of Eastern High School and a current teacher there, has fond memories of Rogers. “Coach Rogers was the AD during my high school career as a student and athlete from 1994 to 1998,” he says. “I was super-involved as a student, athlete and fan, attending well over 100 games, so we got to know each other well. After college I returned to Eastern as a teacher and coach, and Coach Rogers hired and mentored me.”

Rogers, however, didn’t set out to become an AD. In his youth he was simply a guy who loved sports and played nearly all of them at New Albany High School – football, basketball and baseball. Like so many athletes, he was inspired by a good coach. “I had a high school coach [Jim Morris] I loved to death. He was a great guy and made a great impression on me, even though he was my English teacher and I had to fight to get a B.”

While he had learned what to do as a coach from Morris, when he went to Lambuth College in Tennessee (now part of the University of Memphis), Rogers learned some of what not to do from a coach he had there. “I didn’t think he knew what he was doing,” Rogers says.

His first teaching position after college was at Trinity High School, where he says he caught the coaching bug permanently. “I was assistant coach and I had an undefeated season as a junior-varsity coach,” he says. “The next year I think we lost one game. I had a run there of pretty good teams.” In 1980 Rogers moved his family to Frankfort, Kentucky, where he became basketball coach at Western Hills High School, and began to have success at district and regional games.

While winning feels fantastic, coaching was never an easy task for him. “People in the stands think, ‘Why is he doing that? He’s an idiot,’” Rogers says. “Or worse. They don’t realize it’s a little tougher because kids are kids. At 15, 16, 17 years old, sometimes they are a little hard-headed and sometimes they’re babies.”

His move to Eastern High School was in large part because of his son, Jeff. “I knew he was going to be a pretty good basketball player,” Rogers says. When he first took a job at Eastern, he and Jeff were commuting from Frankfort while the family looked for a home back in Louisville. “He and I drove back and forth, which was just a real joy,” Rogers adds. “Sometimes momma thought we weren’t going to come home.” Rogers was, for sure, getting his fill of teenage facial expressions and attitude as a coach and as a dad.

Jeff says his dad’s first team at Eastern beat Ballard High School in the district finals. If anyone had been wondering whether Rogers was a decent coach, this win put their questions to rest. “After we won it, my dad came up to Principal Jim Sexton and said, ‘Now you know he can coach,’” Rogers says.

The toughest thing Rogers has ever done is coach his own son. “I’d love to do it again because of the mistakes I made the first time,” he says. Rogers admits that the trouble wasn’t anything his son did. “The trouble was mine – of expecting perfection,” he says. “I expected great things out of him, which he did. He became a damn good player.”

Joe Rogers and his family at Eastern High
Joe Rogers and his family at Eastern High

After Jeff graduated from Eastern and went off to Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, Rogers decided to stop coaching and become AD so he could attend more of his son’s games.

While some might say Rogers could get “in the weeds” about basketball and coaching, as AD he was literally in the weeds, getting various fields up to par. “When I got there, they had a football field that was the crappiest field I’d been on,” he says. “The soccer field was a piece of dirt.”

Rogers says Sam Farison, owner of Farison Lawn Care, “did more for that school than a lot of people would ever know,” and often put Rogers on lawn equipment he was definitely not prepared to handle. Rogers also remembers a sweltering 98-degree day when he and his brother installed the entire watering system together at Eastern. Suffice it to say, Rogers gave a lot of sweat equity to his workplace in a career that spanned from 1989 to 2017.

Even after he retired, Rogers kept his eyes on the school, including on Joe Scheper, the school’s current AD. “In my first months on the job I was out mowing and got a wire stuck in the mower,” Scheper says. “I spent some time trying to free it from the blades in the hot sun. When I finished, Joe was standing there watching with his dog that he regularly walked near campus. He said, ‘You need to keep that mower away from the fences to avoid that. I’ve seen you out here working every day. Thanks for helping out.’ It is a testament to his care and oversight of the campus that he still was invested in its upkeep.”

Rogers’ career at the school was legendary. “Coach Rogers oversaw an incredibly successful period in Eastern athletics,” Horan says. “During his tenure Eastern won five state championships, lots of regional championships and sent lots of athletes to compete in college. He also set a standard for developing and maintaining great facilities, fostering involvement of parents and booster clubs, and being a positive part of the community.”

For these reasons, talk began of honoring him in some way, and naming the basketball court after him seemed like a perfect option. Scheper and Jeff Rogers were instrumental in making the ceremony happen. Jeff invited former players, including some who played under his dad at Western Hills, and had T-shirts made to commemorate the occasion. Scheper was responsible for getting district approval and having Rogers’ signature painted onto the basketball court.

The most integral person to the ceremony, though, may have been Rogers’ wife, Rita Rogers. She had Rogers write his “best signature” on a piece of paper that was used for the design, per Jeff’s request, took his phone away for a while so Jeff could post on social media without Rogers discovering the ceremony was going to happen, and drove him to Eastern High School without ever letting the cat out of the bag.

Joe Rogers with his Mom
Former Eastern AD Joe Rogers with his Mom

To say he was surprised is an understatement. Despite being greeted by his son, daughter, grandchildren, brother and 97-year-old mother, he remained unaware of the recognition he was receiving until he was on the basketball court at halftime. “I was dumber than a box of rocks,” he says. “I didn’t even know something was up.” To say he felt honored is also an understatement.

“[Former Duke University Head Basketball Coach] Mike Krzyzewski’s got nothing on me,” he adds. “I got my floor with my name. I was really just surprised and happy.”

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