Taking a ride with Badger pride
A champion athlete, coach and educator with a true passion for all things kids, Prescott High School Athletic Director Missy Townsend sees sports as more than speed, muscles and a competitive edge.
The 43-year-old mother of six sees competitive sports as a means to teach young people some of the key principles of life — fairness, tenacity, perseverance, inclusion and character-informed leadership required to achieve excellence.
“I’m very passionate about coaching education and character development for student athletes,” said Townsend, now in her fourth year as the first woman to head the school’s century-old athletic program that has 19 programs, 500 student athletes and 80 coaches. “If I have to be the bad guy now to make them a better person, I’ll do that.”
Indeed, Townsend is always seeking to raise the bar, be it with new programs, upgraded facilities or student leadership opportunities.
She is credited with being the mover and shaker behind what will be about a $2.5 million upgrade to the high school’s main sporting complex, complete with a new track, artificial turf football field and new stadium lighting and safety features.
“I’m always looking for how to make things better,” Townsend said. “This is such a special place. I love the history of PHS … My goal is to make everyone proud who comes here.”
Born into a military family to parents who were athletes, the shy girl who moved every few years found her niche in team sports.
“I always made fantastic friends playing sports,” said Townsend who played on state championship-winning varsity basketball and volleyball teams throughout her high school years that started in San Diego and finished at Cactus High School in Glendale.
Upon high school graduation, she was recruited to Yavapai College to play basketball where the team earned a first-place in division competition and she earned All-Conference honors.
By the end of her sophomore year, Townsend opted to parlay a love of history into an education career at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she played basketball on a full athletic scholarship. Once again, she earned top athletic honors for her athletic and academic performance. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas with dual bachelor’s degrees — one in secondary education and one in history.
And she left with a new husband; her Yavapai College beau, Ben, a Prescott Badger. The two married at the end of her junior year, May 1996.
The couple returned to Arizona where Townsend accepted her first job teaching high school history and coaching both girls’ basketball and volleyball at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. Ben Townsend enrolled at Arizona State University to finish his degree in civil engineering.
Five years later, the couple opted to move back to Ben’s hometown, bringing with them the first two of their six children — Katie, now a 19-year-old newlywed, and Emma, 18, a Prescott High senior.
Once in Prescott, Townsend became a decade-long, stay-at-home mother. The couple added four more children to their household: Sara, 15, a high school sophomore; Megan, 13, a Mile High eighth-grader; William, 11, a Granite Mountain fifth-grader and Lucy, 9, a third-grader at Taylor Hicks Elementary.
Yet Townsend’s connection to sports could not be severed — she worked part-time as an Arizona Interscholastic Association for both girls’ basketball and volleyball, a role she maintains to this day. She also played on a women’s recreation basketball and softball team.
Then 13 years ago Townsend applied, and was hired, to be the high school girls’ varsity basketball coach.
“And I loved it. It was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.
For seven years, Townsend pushed the Lady Badgers to victory — each year playing in state championship tournaments. Townsend was twice named the Western Sky Coach of the Year.
In her third year of coaching, Townsend was hired to teach again. For two of her four years in the classroom Townsend was the Social Studies Department chairman. She also was the school’s technology integration coach and was honored as the 2012-13 Yavapai County High School Teacher of the Year.
Before becoming athletic director, Townsend toyed with switching to college athletics — in 2012 she earned her master’s degree in recreation and sports science from Ohio University.
When that quest did not pan out — she mailed more than 100 resumes for college coaching jobs across the country — she admits she was “so sad.”
“I had never not been successful at something I wanted to do,” Townsend admitted.
What she could not envision was what was coming her way.
She asked the then-PHS Athletic Director Mark Goligoski if she could shadow him to find out more about what that job entailed. He agreed. And then he was tapped to become a district middle school principal.
She was asked to succeed him. And now she counts it as a dream job.
“She’s simply amazing,” Goligoski declared. “In the last few years, she has really brought a lot of programs to the school focused on the values we want to instill in all of our students.
“No one works harder than that lady does.”
District Superintendent Joe Howard said Townsend and her family are Prescott gems — he said he delights every time he bumps into her hiking with her entire family on the Thumb Butte trail.
“She’s one of my very favorite people,” he said.