About Utah: His business is fun, games and sportsmanship

Published: Monday, Dec. 2 2013 7:00 a.m. MST

Rob Cuff, executive director of the Utah High School Activities Association, at the 2013 state football championships at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Nov. 14, 2013.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

MIDVALE — Among his earliest memories are bus rides on road trips with his dad, Bob, who taught math, science and P.E. and coached basketball and baseball for 38 years. His mother, Vicki, was also a career educator.

He participated in sports and music at Richfield High School, including playing on state championship football and basketball teams his junior year. He graduated in English from BYU and proceeded to teach English and coach at Mountain View High School in Orem, where his basketball teams won two state championships in seven years.

While he taught and coached, he earned a master's degree in education and served as an athletic administrator for the Bruins, one of the largest 5A schools at the time. Furthermore, he moonlighted as a football official, refereeing three state high school championship games.

With that history, is it any wonder that Rob Cuff would wind up running the Utah High School Activities Association?

He’s been executive director of the organization since 2009, following an eight-year apprenticeship as an assistant director. At 46, Cuff still qualifies as one of the youngest leaders of a state association in the country, but his lifelong immersion in virtually every aspect of high school sports also qualifies him as one of the most experienced.

In a conversation with the Deseret News, Cuff talked about the relationship among sports, activities and high schools, and offered his opinions and views on the current challenges that relationship faces.

DN: Thank you for your time today and agreeing to talk with us. Given your background, is it fair to say this is your dream job?

RC: Well, it was a very tough decision for me to leave high school coaching, so that was difficult. But when the UHSAA decided to add another assistant in 2001 I knew those kinds of jobs didn’t open up that often. I decided to apply, and if I was offered the job I’d be willing to give up coaching. And that’s what happened. It’s turned out to be a really natural fit for me. Everything about it is in my blood, I guess you could say.

DN: What aspect of it do you enjoy most?

RC: The relationships and the state tournaments. The relationships you get to develop and enjoy with administrators, officials, coaches, students, that really is the best part of the whole job. And being able to administer and supervise tournaments, for a lot of people it’s as good as Christmas. I remember as a young kid the week of the state (basketball) tournament going to BYU, riding the bus, getting out of school, following my dad around. Our family looked forward to that as much as we did Christmas. I still do. And now I can go to all of them. I get to be a part of the excitement over and over again.

DN: And the least enjoyable?

RC: The good and bad news of high school activities is that everyone has a passion, and when you have to make a decision there’s always going to be a division. Whatever it is, from realignment to transfer rules to the format and sites of the state tournaments, whatever decision is made, many will agree and many will disagree. No matter what is decided, based on our bylaws and policies, there will be some who support that and some who don’t. That is the most difficult part of the job, to balance everyone’s passion for high school activities.

DN: So, you need a thick skin for this job?