Brian Kelley, director of activities and athletics and Timmy Jacobsson ’06, assistant director of activities and athletics, talk with Jarrad Jinks on retirement, transitioning roles and the sportier side of activities and athletics.
The grills light up and the bleachers gradually fill with students, their families and faculty. As you enter the front of school, the once distant, nondescript sounds now paint a clear picture—rackets thwack tennis balls on the roof-top courts, sneakers squeak on the high school gym’s hardwood floor. In passing, you catch a glimpse through the open gym door of a volleyball net and a desperate dive. Cheers overpower a hundred nearby conversations as you enter the courtyard. Even louder, the announcer blares over the loudspeaker. You notice the football game has already started.
Spirit Day is a long-lived annual tradition. It runs smoothly, every year. The scale seems effortless, yet it’s impossible to see every game as seven different sports and fourteen different matches overlap each other hour-on-hour, throughout the day. Days like this, no matter how seamless, are a grand effort—the sports alone require collaborations between parent groups, student volunteers and faculty. All of them liaise with our Activities and Athletics department, run by director Brian Kelley and assistant director, Timmy Jacobsson.
In his nine years as the assistant director, Timmy Jacobsson has not only helped coordinate the school’s co-curricular programming but has also taught and coached in high school. However, Timmy’s ties to ASIJ run much deeper than his nine-year tenure in the office.
Timmy Jacobsson was adopted by Bill (FF ’75–’08, AP ’92–’06) and Sandra Jacobsson (FF ’72–’77, ’81–’87, ’95–’96, AP ’92–’06), both ASIJ faculty who dedicated over thirty years to ASIJ—as parents and as faculty in the physical education department. He joined Susan Huber’s (FF ‘88–’17, AP ‘88–’05) class for his first day of kindergarten and continued at ASIJ until he graduated with the Class of ‘06. Timmy returned to ASIJ in 2011, flexing his degree in sports management and exercising his previous experience as a fitness instructor in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Today, nine years after stepping foot back on campus, he prepares to step up to the plate as director of activities and athletics—a role that his father also performed at ASIJ, back before his ASIJ days. “Quite the pedigree,” as our outgoing director of activities and athletics, Brian Kelley, enthusiastically boasts on behalf of his successor.
For the past nine years—Brian started the same year as Timmy—the two have also presided over a program that encompasses 170 different sports and activities across three divisions, serving our over 1650-strong student body. The department works not only with those students, but also faculty, coaches and parent groups such as Boosters and Friends of the Fine Arts (FOFA). It’s a large program, to say the least.
As Brian prepares for retirement, he reflects fondly on his time at ASIJ and how they’ve positioned Timmy to uphold and continue to improve the Mustang legacy. They take particular pride in the culture—one that is equal and unselfish. Brian calls it the “Mustang’s Wa,” a concept that references harmony. “I don’t think any student feels that one sport is more important than another or that girls are more important than boys or vice versa. There’s a great sense of the Mustangs Wa. We all play for our team and we play for our school.” Timmy notes that, at ASIJ, the harmony and team-spirit extends well beyond the sidelines. Although they may not play, our sports program is very well supported by a group of nearly 250 student volunteers that keep score, student-coach, work with our athletic trainer and our lifeguards.
So what was the Activities and Athletics program like when you first started as compared to now?
ASIJ has been a big robust program for many, many years and I would look back on my start and say, “Gosh, I’m going to come to a school where you don’t have to do anything new or innovative, you just kind of keep the program going.” But as it turned out, there have been some important changes, additions and sort of tweaks to the system that I think have improved the program and made it more, lets say, friendly and accessible to students.
Speaking from the K-12 perspective, we’ve added a great deal to the elementary and middle school programs. We’ve introduced things like tournaments on campus, which from my previous experience was something I found missing. We played so often away from school and did not often have the experience of an exciting tournament atmosphere on campus. So that’s a rather obvious addition we’ve made along with a couple of other things.
I think one of the things that, as I look back on my time here, I’m most proud or happy to see that there’s a lot of collegiality, in Tokyo, amongst the international schools, the group of athletic directors that serve it, the 10 schools that we work with. There’s a great feeling of friendship and support.
Timmy, I was wondering how the program has changed from when you were a student?
One of the big the biggest changes and it’s one of the really great things that we’ve done, or Brian actually, he’s gotten the teams to travel a lot more internationally. When I was in high school, I don’t think we really ever traveled—we pretty much stayed within the Far East Tournaments and we wouldn’t go anywhere else. But I think Brian’s done an amazing job of giving kids opportunities to explore other international schools and see what else is out there and see that there’s other students, there’s other communities. It’s a great change to the program that’s allowing us to venture outside of Japan and Korea and goto places like Shanghai, Manila, or Kuala Lumpur.
That’s what the big change for me is. I think I went on one sports trip. Now, we have kids that go on three or maybe even four trips. And they’re all to these amazing countries where they have cultural experiences, they meet other kids, and we kind of share our own Mustang spirit with other people. And I think it’s a great opportunity for our program and for our students.
Timmy, how would you say the program has influenced you either as a former student or your life in general?
Well, I mean, as a student, I learned so many of those TJ really important life lessons from my coaches, from all the experiences I’ve had playing sports and being part of activities, like learning about teamwork, integrity, like building a little grit, all those kinds of things have helped me get to where I am now. It’s funny, I’ve actually looked back at my high school wrestling coach, my high school football coaches, and they’ve had such a huge impact on my life and how I go about work, how I go about living my life like they were big figures in my life that helped me kind of build who I am and develop.
Is there any particular coach or moment that sticks out in your mind?
It’s not a moment. It’s more like, I would say my TJ senior year for both wrestling and football I had John Seevers (FF ’97–’17, AP ’91–’06) and I had my dad. And then I had John Hohenthaner (FF ’89–’07, AP ’94–’08) as a wrestling coach. Those three coaches, you can see how much energy they’re putting into the program, how much they care about the kids and how much they want you to do, that they’re always going to be there to support you. So I think that’s a huge thing that I always look back at. When I think of my high school experience, I can always think back to playing football with my dad and coach Seevers and wrestling with coach Hohenthaner.
If I can pick up on that just a little bit. Both Timmy and I are in a program in the school that, as everyoneknows, takes a little bit of extra time. It’s in the evenings, on weekends, and people ask “how do you do it? Why do you do it?” And you know, Timmy was just mentioning the coaches that influenced him. I’ve said for years, I try to live up to the standard of the adults that were my coaches. So not just here in ASIJ but, I played sports in the 60s and 70s and when I think of all the dads and moms who contributed to my youth, you know, it really is trying to live up to the model they demonstrated.
It’s great to work with kids. It’s great to work in the world of sports. But, it does take a unique commitment sometimes. Having strong influences, like Timmy just said, I know has motivated me, kept me thinking all along “try to live up to Bud Milke, try to live up to Jay Hollister, try to live up to Ace Hawkins”—the important people in my youth.
What role do co-curriculars play in a student’s education and development? How does it fit in with the core curriculum and academics?
You know, I often think that sometimes we lose the fact that school is supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to like coming into school and be excited to come to school and I think that is definitely the case here. And the academics are the most important reason why you go to school but a robust co-curricular program just provides kids with so much that they really enjoy. There’s just a time as a teenager where you know you like performing or you love a particular sport. You have a passion for something.
It has also been proven in many a study that kids who are engaged in after school activities do better in the classroom. And part of it is, you’re connected. You make more friends, you meet new teachers, you feel a sense of pride and you’re working on a team and working hard. I will say this, our kids like to work hard. I think we’ve translated the idea that hard work is fun. It makes us successful. And, you know, the idea that so many of us who’ve played sports in our career, now look back on our long term friendships, and many of them were carved on the court or the field.
I totally agree. ASIJ’s very strong academically, we’re also very strong in our activities, athletics and I think it gives kids something to look forward to at the end of the day. Like you are so worried about AP stats, your AP US and then you can step on the field or the court or the stage and it kind of gives you a second to forget about all that and you can focus on being part of your team, forging those friendships. In athletics and activities, you make those lifelong friends. Like, I’m still in a fantasy football league with the seniors from my football team. We still talk back and forth all the time. They’re great opportunities for kids to make solid relationships that don’t just go away when you go to college and or when you graduate college. And when you have alumni come back they still want to meet up with their teammates, they still want to look at the record boards that are everywhere. They take a lot of pride in participating in that, but it also helps them connect with others and it gives them an opportunity to, you know, stay in touch.
Our new core values are character, courage, compassion. How do those relationships, those connections, the teamwork, the games, the wins, the losses—build character, courage and compassion in a student?
We have times when coaches talk to their kid individually, but there are also times let’s say in a recognition ceremony for a season of sport, where you have 150 or 200 kids gathered. We often mention the Mustang’s character because we are a welcome guest and opponent by other schools. They want to participate with us and there is there is a positive character commonality amongst our students. We don’t make excuses, we don’t get upset. We keep things in the right perspective. Now, how that translates to life is pretty obvious, but maybe it’s not so at times. We spend so little of our life as teenagers and young athletes and so much of our lives as adults, and we all know that as an adult, you face a lot of setbacks, and you’ve got to fall back on your own character.
I think with building character, you’ve got opportunities for young students, young adults to learn about how they can persevere through adversity, how they can have humility in success. And I think one of the things that our program does really well is when we do travel, like Brian was saying, we always get really positive feedback. Our kids are going up there. They are demonstrating the highest level of sportsmanship the highest level of integrity. They don’t even know some of these teams and they are stepping on the court and they’re showing that we’re representing ASIJ. We’re representing the Mustangs. And I think every place that we’ve gone so far that we’ve got an email from the AD or the coach saying, “hey, everyone just wants to let you know that we loved having you guys here. And you guys were a great example for all the other teams.”
And I think there’s so many aspects of one’s internal belief system and reputation, how you look at things and one of the most important things is keeping everything in perspective. I think we have through athletics here, communicated that these are important and valuable, but they’re not too important. They’re not the only thing. People shouldn’t get broken up about not making a team or being on the JV and not on Varsity or not winning a championship. the effort, the attitude, trying your best is the most important thing. And that kind of carries out to all of us. You’re going to go through life and make some mistakes and things are going to go bad for you sometimes but some things are a lot more serious than others. And sports lets you really do something that’s important and valuable but at the end of the day, it’s not life and death. It’s not tragic. And you know, I think that kind of character is part of the Mustang’s character.
Courage is a challenging concept, I’d say the one of the most courageous things a young person can do is try something that they’re not sure about. Going out for a team is taking a risk. Playing a sport that you’ve never played before is taking a risk. Realizing you’re starting at a place that you’re going to have to work hard to get to where you want to go. It might be easier to say “I won’t do it”, “I don’t think I’d like to,” or “I know I’m not going to make it.” We really like to see our kids try. Try something new. Get involved in something, and that goes to any activity or sport.
Our kids are willing to put themselves out there. If you see us at one of the tournaments that we host, our kids usually do a pretty good job of going out of the way to talk with the teams that are there. For example, we host the Yujo Volleyball tournament on campus. This year, we had the Varsity girls, they’re cooking breakfast for all the teams that were on campus, they’re in there having fun, they were trying to talk to all the girls, get them involved with things. So I think we help students kind of gain the courage to actually put themselves out there and try to connect with people but also to try new things, as Brian was saying, like having them do something that they’ve never done before.
And with compassion, you see our teams, how close they are. They truly care for each other. If you ever see the volleyball team, the soccer team or the cross country team, they’re always, in season or out of season, they’re always hanging out with each other, always looking out for each other. They are going team dinners they’re supporting each other all the time. It’s not just on the court, it’s off the court too.
But I do think at ASIJ, we’ve got a very unique group of students that build closeness within their team. We have a lot of new kids as well and that’s how they make friends. Maybe they hate moving to Japan and they’ve left their friends or whatever back wherever they’re coming from, but our teams are open and they’re willing to accept them. And it makes that transition that much easier.
Timmy, both your parents were ASIJ faculty in the PE department, did you feel that this was always the path that you’d follow?
It’s kind of funny, my parents would always like, when I was in high school, they would say, “Oh, you should be a teacher.” Of course I was a high school kid and so I was like, “no I’m not doing that at all costs.” But then I started to get into the physical fitness kind of stuff. I majored in sports management because I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into education. But I still knew from my experiences at ASIJ that I wanted to still be involved with sports and activities in some capacity. So definitely, I guess they kind of led me in that direction because they’re both PE teachers.
Have they given you any advice after learning that you’ll be taking that director of the Activities and Athletics position?
I was actually texting my dad the other day and I think one of the things that stood out to me was that all the work you’re doing—it’s for the kids in the end. Whatever you can do to make sure that they have good experience, whatever you can do to make sure that they feel supported then do it. I asked him because he was the athletic director long time ago for 10 years or something like that.
Brian, nine years together. Did you ever anticipate that Timmy might take over the whole program?
Yeah, quite early on we started thinking of ways to enrich Timmy’s background. I mean, we talked openly that this could be your position one year, one day. I was never going to be here for many years because of my age. So, there was always going to be a transition. Basically in our office, Timmy and I do the same work. We have to delegate this program. It’s such a big program so that we often say it’s not that the work is so difficult, but the volume is high. There’s a lot of activity at this school, both on the field and off, so he’s been essentially doing everything that I’ve been doing and we just share the load a little bit—though there are times of course when the director has to take a particular role and direct vision.
But yeah, Timmy’s been thought of as a potential candidate and I thought it was a no brainer to hire him. This is definitely a school where a little local knowledge about what the job entails and also how the school in Japan and how our relationships are with other schools is very important. It’s not an easy school to come into new, I found it quite challenging. But Timmy’s definitely ready. The school’s in great shape as far as going forward.
Where do you see co-curriculars or program going in the future?
Well, the school is well over 115 years old and the value placed on co-curriculars is apparent to everyone. We’re well-supported. We’ll be looking at how tournaments meet the needs of our students and our coaches now that we’re starting to experience more international environments.
We’re going to try and develop our international relationships a little bit more. And we’ve started. We’re inviting teams from other countries to our tournaments, and we’re going to their tournaments. So we’re getting the Mustang brand out there.
I want to add one more thing that it’s been a goal since the moment I arrived here, and it’s amazing how challenging this is to accomplish, but we have a big desire to have relationships and friendships with Japanese high schools. We have a couple of friendships that we forged with Kawasaki High School and Rikkyo High School in particular. Tennis is a program that could really benefit from some Japanese sporting friendships. So that is a goal that I have some satisfaction with but I’m a bit disappointed that probably haven’t accomplished more in
the realm of solid sporting relationships.
With a couple of things like that in mind, maybe some growth and some new athletic directions, solidifying international relationships and Japanese relationships, I think we have a couple of real solid goals to give us a vision for the future.