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It came as a bit of a shock to Los Alamos High School athletic director Vicki Nelms when she heard.
Just two weeks earlier, meeting with the top officials from the New Mexico Activities Association, Nelms got no indication that Gary Tripp might be stepping down from his top post.
However, Tripp, the executive director of the NMAA, the governing body of most interscholastic sports and activities in the state, announced Monday that he will be leaving the association’s top job effective at the end of the 2011-12 academic year.
“It was a surprise that he was retiring,” said Nelms, who was hired in 2007 and has never worked with another NMAA executive director. “He’s been great to work with. He’s professional and he believes in kids.”
Tripp made the announcement that he was retiring at a press conference in Albuquerque.
He was hired in March 2004, becoming just the fifth executive director in the NMAA’s 73-year history.
Tripp, who has teaching experience and held the athletic director position at Rio Rancho High School just prior to becoming the top official at the NMAA, took over for longtime association head Dan Salzwedel, who left before the conclusion of that academic year.
Salzwedel’s 18-year tenure was constantly mired in controversy, but a financial crisis and the ensuing fallout during his final months on the job would eventually lead to his resignation.
In 2010, Salzwedel made an unsuccessful run for the state House of Representatives.
Tripp, however, brought stability to the NMAA and most of his time as executive director was smooth sailing for the organization.
During his time there, Tripp spearheaded the creation of the NMAA Foundation, which awards scholarships to students and provides grants to schools looking to begin athletic programs.
Tripp was also credited with revising state tournament formats and the way teams are selected for the postseason. Even the state championship events themselves have run smoother since Tripp took over.
“Gary took over and he changed everything around,” said KRSN radio personality Gene Mortensen, who has worked for several years as a public address announcer for the NMAA. “He’s done a fantastic job since he’s been there. He’s made a lot of good changes. Ever since Gary and the rest took over, the NMAA’s been a pretty well-oiled machine.”
Mortensen said Tripp’s successor, whomever that my be, would need probably just to continue running the organization the way Tripp has in order to be successful.
The NMAA’s executive board hasn’t announced a timeline of when it will choose Tripp’s successor.
Nelms said the NMAA has been very easy to work with while she’s been at LAHS.
“You always wonder about why things are going the way they are, but when you meet with (NMAA officials) on a personal level, you see how things work,” she said. “They answered every question, they’ve been open about everything. That’s been really good.”
The vast majority of secondary schools in New Mexico, including all the state’s public high schools, are members of the NMAA. In all, 160 schools are members.