PaliHi’s John Achen has been named 2017-18 Athletic Director of the Year by the CIF L.A. City Section. He will be honored at the annual California State Athletic Directors Association’s conference in Burlingame in April.
“John has done a tremendous job as athletic director at Palisades Charter High School. His passion and devotion to his alma mater reflects positively in the character of the student-athletes and coaches at Pali,” said Dick Dornan, the City Section sports information director. “He truly deserves this award and his peers recognized him through his hard work and dedication.”
Dornan noted that there are 10 CIF sections in California and each section recognizes an Athletic Director of the Year.
“All I do is paperwork,” said Achen, who oversees one of the most successful athletic programs in all of Los Angeles. “The emphasis shouldn’t be on me, it should go to the coaches and the kids for all of their hard work. They should have the recognition.”
Achen is a truly nice guy, so it’s easy to see why this is his third award. In 2014, he received the Norman MacKenzie Award, given to an athletic director “rookie” who has been in the AD position less than five years. A year later he received the California Coaches Association SoCal Honoree award.
Achen, who is adamant that all the focus should be on the athletes rather than him, is an unsung hero at the school.
Even though he downplays his position, he is key to keeping the program running smoothly. During the school year, he schedules 51 teams (varsity/junior varsity) and manages the welfare of 811 athletes.
With only two gyms available, he somehow schedules games and practices for girls and boys varsity/JV basketball and wrestling. Come spring at the stadium field, he must see that games/meets and practices are possible for track, girls softball, and boys and girls lacrosse.
Achen also makes sure there are officials at every home athletic event, and post-game buses for the traveling athletes.
Plus, he is in charge of looking at all the eligibility and athletic clearances, either through transfers or grades.
Achen, a third-generation Palisadian, played football when he attended PaliHi.
After graduating in 1999, he studied at Santa Monica College and then completed his degree in criminal justice at Cal Lutheran. He worked for a local production company for a short time, but in 2009, he was pulled in as assistant AD at PaliHi. He also served as a PaliHi football coach from 2010 to 2012.
School officials soon realized that Achen would be more valuable in the AD position, and in March 2011 he was promoted. The leadership job had been changing on a routine basis, but Achen has brought stability.
In addition to fulfilling his regular duties, Achen is also a person that coaches, parents and athletes seek out. He is easy to talk to and always seems to have time to chat with everyone.
“I just try to find solutions,” he said. “I’m mellow, just a dude from the Palisades.”
Achen is clear about his mission at Pali. “We’re focused on running an entire athletic program,” he said. “This school is not just about one or two sports.”
His parents, John and Michelle, live in the community. His mom, who graduated from PaliHi in 1970, works at Palisades Elementary in resources and his sister Amanda (now married to Joe Ford) also works there.
Achen is married to Irina, a senior technical project manager for a medical company, and they have a daughter, Sofia. The family resides in Pacific Palisades.