Jo Ito Named Emerald Emerald Sound Conference Athletic Director of the Year

It was 2004 and a young Jo Ito, just barely out of college, landed the job of athletic director at the International School of Düsseldorf in Germany. 

“I was finishing up my degree and started coaching at the International School of Düsseldorf. The timing just happened to work out where the athletic director moved on, and I applied as a young, inexperienced sports administrator, and landed the job,” Jo said. “I enjoyed working at the school, the kids, and coaching. The opportunity fell into my lap, and I never looked back.” 
Fast forward years later, and Jo is still living out his passion for sports and working with kids as an athletic administrator. Entering his eighth year in the role at Bush, this January, Jo was named Washington’s Emerald Sound Conference (ESC) Athletic Director of the Year for 2021-2022. 

“Jo is assiduous, meticulous, and indefatigable,” Bush Head of School Percy L. Abram said. “He inspires us all through his passion for healthy competition, his commitment to his coaches and students, his impeccable work ethic, and his generosity. He approaches each endeavor with an incomparable level of kindness, intelligence, and insight. Jo’s work at Bush has made a substantial impact on The Bush School community. Through his efforts, he has built a sense of pride not only in our athletic programs, but the school as well. He has proven that competing can be fun, winning takes a team, and that losing brings with it lifelong lessons. This is consistent with his values and those of The Bush School.”

The honor puts him in contention for the District 2 Athletic Director of the Year, which will be awarded at the the Washington Secondary Schools Athletic Administrators Association (WSSAAA) Conference in April in Kennewick, WA. 

“I’m a humble person and being in the spotlight makes me feel uncomfortable,” said Jo, who also serves as the ESC secretary and sport coordinator. ”I remember coming into the league, really the only person from outside the area, with new and different ideas and initiatives. They weren’t always embraced at first, but now my voice is heard, people know and trust me, and our athletic program is respected within our league. I think we’ve raised the bar and the overall standard of what it means to be an athlete at Bush.”

After starting his career at the International School of Düsseldorf, serving as the athletic director and coaching basketball, Jo and his wife, Ali, moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in 2008 where he served as the athletic director at the Mid-Pacific Institute. In this role Jo found an environment where he was able to grow with professional development opportunities, and establish a winning culture through his core values and beliefs. 

“I have a strong belief in the importance of being an effective communicator and being responsive to people,” Jo said. “I think it’s a vital piece of being a successful administrator at a school.  During my time at Mid Pacific, improved communication and overall structure led the program to remarkable success.”

After moving back to Frankfurt, Germany for one year, Jo said it was always in the plans to one day reside in Seattle to be closer to Ali’s family. In 2014 he accepted the position of athletics director at Bush. Jo explained his world-wide experiences have shaped his athletic philosophies, which have helped the Blazers become a successful program on and off the playing field. 

“I believe in the importance of finding balance between competitiveness and the responsibility as athletic administrators and coaches to have a meaningful impact on kids' lives through positive coaching methodology, accountability, and high standards. Here at Bush we live that out fully,” Jo said. “Yes, we want to win. We want to be competitive, but never at the cost of being a positive influence on the kids. We know we reached our goal when student-athletes leave our program being better athletes, and more importantly, better people.”

Jo notes that the past couple of years have been hard with managing athletics during the pandemic. What keeps him coming back day in and day out are the Bush community members, "from the youngest participants to high school athletes, coaches, and parents/guardians,” Jo said. “It is special to accompany athletes on their journey, watching them reach new heights. Many end up accomplishing things they never thought possible, and playing a role in that experience is rewarding.”  

Aside from his role as athletics director at Bush, Jo is a course instructor for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) and a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) Eligibility Hearing Committee member. 
“I've known Jo for almost twenty years,” Bush’s Assistant Athletics Director Lisa McCullough said. “He is a workaholic and by that I mean he is dedicated to providing the students at Bush with the best athletic experience possible no matter the level of play, from our Lower School athletes to our highly skilled Upper School players.”

While athletics consume the majority of his time, he’s been able to share that passion—including his favorite sports, soccer and basketball— with his daughter, Zuzu ’29. 

“It’s super fun because now I’m able to share that experience with her,” he said. “She plays soccer and basketball, and it’s so fun to watch games together and talk about certain players and aspects of the game.”

-by Mary Albl, Communications Manager