Story and photo by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Charleston Dean of Students and Athletic Director Derrick Zerrusen is moving right down the road.

Sort of. 

The Class of 2012 Teutopolis High School graduate has accepted the position of district activities and athletic director at his alma mater, whose responsibilities will umbrella the junior high as well.

“I always prided myself, here and at Chrisman before here, of starting programs,” he said. “At Chrisman, we started a softball team. Prior to that, we co-oped. Here, we started e-sports and revived the cheer team and started a bass fishing team.”

Zerrusen said his goal was to create opportunities for every student to make their experience better. While there were some students that participated in several extracurricular activities, he found that the ones that participated in e-sports did not.

“Our e-sports kids weren’t in anything else,” he said. “We wanted to get every kid plugged into something to make their high school experience meaningful whether it was scholastic bowl, FFA, football – it doesn’t matter. As long as they’re plugged into something, their high school experience is going to be better.

To create opportunities for the kids to have something to be plugged into is huge for me.”

He said the expansion of programs came about with talking to the students.

“A lot of it came based with conversations with kids who said something to be about it,” Zerrusen said. “Bass fishing was first and e-sports followed shortly after. I had a kid ask about bass fishing and the district had looked into it eight or 10 years ago and the answer was no. And now that bass fishing has grown in popularity, I was able to reach out to other schools and see what they do and ask questions that the board wanted to know so we’d have an informed decision to make.”

Zerrusen said he took the time to do the research so the school board could make informed decisions.

“I think I’ve done a better job here than what’s existed in the past in advertising our kids in a social media presence and those things,” he said. 

One of the most important things for him was to build relationships.

It’s built (into the job) that I’m around, but I can walk around the hallways and tell a seventh grade kid whose got their first minutes on the basketball court ‘great job’,” he said. “That’s going to go a long way with building a relationship with that kid.”

Zerrusen noted that his role also includes discipline, but having built a relationship with the students goes a long way of not being the ‘bad guy’.

“Some of the small things, and it’s hard to call it a small because it’s the most important, but having the relationships with the kids,” he said. “In my role, I have to do some of the discipline stuff, too. It’s real easy to be the bad guy when you’re always doing discipline. We joke that athletic directors are the last stop to the Dark Side of administration. We’re here (on a Friday night) at a soccer game and I can talk to our kids Monday about the game because I’m here and at everything. A friend of mine who is a teacher once told me “Part of it is that you view those kids as a receptacle you fill with knowledge and that’s the extent of your relationship with them because you don’t go to things.”

He said is always motivated to build scenarios where students can have a successful high school experience.

“Look, this is going to be the highest crowd of the year,” he said noting the crowd at a recent soccer match. “We’ve got a 100 people. Nothing is going to happen. I have a trainer here if someone gets hurt. You could make a case we don’t need an administrator here. If you’re trying to build relationships with kids, you have to be around.”

He also goes to extracurricular activities that he’s not required to go.

“I’m required to be at some (sporting events), but I try to make it to things that I’m not required to,” he said. “I’ve been at both of our home tennis meets. I’ve been at several our home baseball and softball games. Those are things in this position that I’m not required to supervise at all. It’s just better practice to build those relationships.”

Zerrusen said being younger has been beneficial in building those relationships: “They don’t see you as some old guy in a corner.”

Zerrusen says the move back home seems like a natural.

“In the AD world, it doesn’t get much bigger than Ttown,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a lateral move or moving to a smaller school.”

Some other accomplishments – growing the cross invitational, expanding the red and gold soccer tournament and a larger holiday girls basketball tournament.

The Red and Gold soccer tournament will have more teams than before – Charleston, Mattoon, Teutopolis, Altamont, Newton, Danville, Olney, Arthur Christian, Effingham, Robinson, St. Thomas More and Danville.  “Talk about a central/east central Illinois 2A soccer showcase,” he said.

Zerrusen says he is proud and excited for a Mattoon/Charleston girls holiday basketball tournament in December he and Mattoon athletic director Trent Duckett have worked on the will feature 12 teams with games hosted at both locations.

“Since I have let Trent know I won’t be returning to Charleston next year,” Zerrusen said, “he has really taken the ball and ran with it.”

The biggest thing he’s going to miss: students.

“Pretty much the entire time I was trying to build relationships with the kids,” Zerrusen said. “Now, I’m going to have new kids.”