The Medford School District made the decision one year ago to change the athletic director positions at North and South Medford high schools from full-time to a split between the AD role and teaching in the classroom, and it has cost the district one of its leading figures.

After serving one year in the altered role, North Medford Athletic Director Tim Sam resigned his position recently and will be moving over to serve as assistant principal in charge of curriculum and athletic director at North Valley High in Merlin.

“The prompt for sure was this year the job was changed to half-time and half-time teaching,” Sam said of his decision to leave. “Maybe it’s just because I’m old and have done it full-time for many years but I thought it made it really difficult to service kids and coaches. It was honestly kind of heartbreaking to not be available for kids and coaches when they needed help.”

Sam started at North Medford as a teacher in 1991 and took over as AD in 2004. In between, he also served as boys basketball coach for five seasons and girls golf coach for 18 years.

“That’s what made it so difficult,” Sam said of his decision. “After 26 years wrapping my heart around North Medford and having North Medford wrap its heart around me, I felt like it was a need to make a change.”

Sam said he was first approached in April by North Valley Principal Erik Lathen about the prospects of joining the school, then began to be intrigued with the idea as he kept North Medford Principal Dan Smith advised throughout the process.

“Dan was very supportive,” said Sam. “I talked to him all through the process from having a first conversation with the folks at North Valley. I let him know we talked and they’d asked me to consider the job and I talked to him after I interviewed and after I was offered the job and he was the first person I let know that I was accepting the position.”

“Dan was very supportive and was trying to find ways to make it work here,” added Sam, “but I think he understood my need to serve kids and coaches.”

Returning to the classroom wasn’t as much of a big deal to Sam as losing out on time to effectively fulfill his role as athletic director.

“I very much enjoyed being in the classroom and helping kids in that capacity,” Sam said, “but when it came time to do what I say is more than a full-time job in a big school and community like Medford, which is very supportive and has high expectations for athletics, to try and take care of all the paperwork and details, whether it’s a referee schedule or conference and statewide meetings, and then have time to nurture kids and coaches and provide leadership for them, it was just heartbreaking to not be able to get to everything.”

Amy Tiger, Medford’s district athletic director and staff/student safety director, said she and Smith have discussed the process for replacing Sam and expects for a decision to be made in the coming weeks.

“It’s a great opportunity for Tim,” Tiger said. “He’s wanted to be an assistant principal for a while and that’s an opportunity that hadn’t come up yet. I think they made him a pretty good deal. He’s got a lot of experience that he brings to the table. We’ll lose a lot of institutional knowledge that he brings and he certainly is a leader in his position throughout the state.”

Sam served as vice president of the Oregon Athletic Directors Association this past year and has worked closely with the Oregon School Activities Association in various roles during his time at North Medford.

“Tim’s been a good mentor to me and (first-year South Medford Athletic Director Tim Rupp) and that’s the part that’s hard to lose,” said Tiger, “but, again, he’s going to get to go and gain some new skills and do some new things in his new role.”

Among a host of projects he has helped move forward at North Medford have been the installation of artificial turf fields, addition of baseball and softball fields on school grounds, renovation of weight room facilities, return of a Booster Club, installation of a Black Tornado Hall of Fame and more complete trophy case to recognize the school’s history.

Along the way, North Medford has won seven state championships in his 13 years after claiming five in the previous 18 and 41 conference championships.

“Really for me it’s been way more about the journey than any one thing,” said Sam. “I think we have really great kids here at North Medford and great coaches and when you teach them to do things the right way, they’re going to end up being successful.”

As much as he will miss North Medford, Sam said he is equally excited about the prospects at North Valley.

“I’m very lucky to be there,” he said. “They’re very generous and I’m excited about it. It’s hard to leave this place that I love but I’m excited about going to North Valley and trying to help them any way I can. I think they have a lot of needs like North Medford when I first took over so I’m excited about the opportunity to be available for the most part close to 100 percent of the time to serve those kids and coaches and the community.”

In the short term, however, the biggest trick will be in saying the proper school name these days since there’s not much difference between the two and he has Medford integrated into all he does.

“I know I’m going to make that mistake probably at least once,” Sam said with a laugh over mixing up North Valley and North Medford. “In my brain I’m kind of trying to focus on North, that’s the easy term that I know. I’ve just had to be really conscious of writing NV and not NM.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry