By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
HIGH SCHOOL CZAR: Danny Rennels, center, executive secretary of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, with Tommy Thompson, left, executive director of the Tulsa Sports Charities Inc., and H. G. Green, Rennels predecessor. The photo was taken at a recent Tulsa Sports Charities luncheon.
MATTHEW W. GROSS for GTR Newspapers photos
He is the most powerful man in Oklahoma high school sports.
Yet he is virtually faceless.
He has the final word on all decisions dealing with Oklahoma high schools.
Yet few people know his name.
Danny Rennels is the executive secretary of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.
He is based in Oklahoma City, but his jurisdiction has no boundaries.
His organization, often misunderstood, is best known by its acronym.
Rennels was in the Tulsa area recently, talking about the two subjects he knows best: the OSSAA and high school athletes.
Rennels is a former coach and administrator who now oversees the governing body of Oklahoma high school athletics.
He is articulate and organized, erudite and incisive.
He is direct and straightforward, a strapping man of 54 years with a stout voice and a strong handshake.
He has a coach’s countenance and an executive’s demeanor.
And he has the respect, commands the respect, of the state’s council of educators.
He is, after all, one of them, a coach and classroom teacher who became a school superintendent at the age of 29.
Now he serves at the pleasure of his peers, elected by educators and administrators to administer their rules, their regulations.
The OSSAA is not a state agency, does not fit under the umbrella of the Oklahoma Department of Education.
As Rennels explains it, the OSSAA is an independent organization, a nonprofit organization, charged with regulating eligibility and managing state competition in 32 different fields of athletics and activities.
The OSSAA is governed by a 14-member board, comprised of principals and superintendents, each of whom is elected to serve.
Rennels reports and answers only to that board.
His office is funded, almost exclusively, he says, by gate receipts from state playoff athletic competition.
Basketball is the OSSAA’s cash cow.
Some 80 percent of the OSSAA’s operating budget for the year, Rennels says, is funded by the basketball playoffs.
March Madness translates into Calendar Contentment for the OSSAA.
Member schools, and there are nearly 600 secondary school members, make up the OSSAA. There are no dues, but schools do pay enrollment fees, according to the number of activities in which they are involved.
That Rennels wound up in this office is something of a surprise even to him.
He started out to be a coach. And he did coach for four years.
But he moved into administration for survival. He needed more money for his family.
He never returned to coaching.
But then he has never looked back, either.
“When I graduated from Hammon High School, with 18 kids in our class, I didn’t even know what the OSSAA was,’’ he said.
“And when I was coaching, I didn’t even know the phone number of the OSSAA.”
And now he IS the OSSAA.
He served as a staff member and as associate executive secretary under Bill Self Sr. before assuming the No. 1 position in December 1998.
“It is a position that you have to have been there for a while,” Rennels says. “You have to have some background. Some history. You really do need to grow into this job.
“When Bill was making those tough decisions, and I was sitting across the hall, I thought, ‘Well, you know, that’s not so tough.’
“Until I get across the hall, and I’m sitting in Bill’s chair, I realized how many people are affected,” Rennels said.
“I agonize over these decisions.
“I hadn’t been in the office a week, and I had to take a team out of the football playoffs,” he said, citing the ineligibility of an athlete.
“It was, honestly, an easy decision. But a tough consequence.
“Those things are tough. And there’s no one there to help make those decisions. You have to make them yourself.
“I can do so, but not without some agony over it,” he said.
“You have to be able to deal with the coaches. With the athletic directors. With the principals. With the superintendents.
“And oftentimes, with all four groups from the same school, we may get four different answers.
“We better be able to relate to all of them.”
Rennels can relate, can connect.
He is an able and proficient communicator.
When he addressed a large luncheon gathering for the Tulsa Sports Charities Inc., this spring, he held court with a seasoned and experienced presence.
He talked about the problems the OSSAA faces with increasing complaints of recruiting.
He talked about the athletics and the activities the OSSAA administers.
He talked about the beginnings of the OSSAA, in the early 1920s, when it was organized as merely an athletic association, and how it was expanded in the early 1960s to incorporate activities ranging from drama to music, from cheerleading to speech.
He talked about rules and justice, athletes and parents.
He visited with a predecessor, H.J. Green, of Tulsa, who held the executive secretary position from 1987 until 1991.
“I know I will make a decision now and think, ‘Well, Bill did it this way, or, perhaps, when I was on the board, H.J. did it that way.’ And that matters.
“A lot of our job is common sense. A lot of it is rules,” Rennels said.
“But a lot of it has to have some history. As in, we’ve done it this way in the past, and it worked. There might be a reason why it still works.”
Many people, fans, parents, students, athletes, might not know a lot about the OSSAA.
There was a time, he admitted, that Danny Rennels did not know a lot about the OSSAA.
“They only know who we are when they’re mad because we’ve said ‘no,’ he said.”
Danny Rennels is not afraid to say ‘no.’ He’s been hired to administer the rules. And he has the final word.
“We do a lot of good things for a lot of good kids,” he says.