Friday night lights beckon school PR pro and sports photographer
By Michael Sudhalter
Thirty-three years after he graduated from Texas Tech University, Ian Halperin has achieved incredible things in the world of school public relations and sports photography.
Just don’t call him Ian (pronounced E-an); it’s pronounced “EYE-an.”
“I tell people that ‘E-an’ is not here; it’s like a screening technique,” Halperin said.
Halperin, the executive director of community relations and marketing in Wylie ISD (28 miles northeast of Dallas), is a past president of the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA). TSPRA is an organization dedicated to improving public education in Texas via quality communication services.
“Our public schools are really the best hope for so many of our kids to better their lives,” Halperin said.” There are so many great things going on in our schools right now across the state. We need to make sure we protect public schools because it’s the only option for most of the kids.”
Halperin’s earned TSPRA’s Professional Achievement Award in 2020 and is a Texas PTA Honorary Life Member.
But that just begins to tell the story of his 28-year-career in school public relations that has included work in Wylie and Mesquite ISDs.
When he graduated from Texas Tech in 1990, Halperin harbored dreams of becoming a full-time sports photographer. He worked for a community newspaper group in Dallas but never went full-time beyond that.
However, he’s photographed four Super Bowls, two NBA Finals, two NHL Stanley Cup Finals, two MLB World Series and a Major League Soccer Cup, plus several NCAA Championships.
He’s also photographed six U.S. presidents.
Not bad for a side gig.
Halperin, 56, credits the Jewish values that he learned with helping build the foundation for his life and career.
“It’s an important part of my history and an important connection to my immediate family and larger Jewish family beyond that,” Halperin said.
Halperin was born in Chicago in 1967. His family moved to the small western Michigan community of Fremont when he was very young. Halperin’s father was employed by Texas Instruments.
Halperin’s parents would drive him 54 miles roundtrip to the closest synagogue — located in Muskegon, Michigan, near the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan — for his bar mitzvah training in 1979.
“My family and a couple of friends showed up,” Halperin said. “There wasn’t any type of celebration like bar mitzvahs today. We had the service and the reception was in the temple basement.”
Shortly after Halperin’s bar mitzvah, the family relocated again — this time to Lubbock. In the mid-1980s they would move again to the Austin area, where Ian would graduate from high school.
But it wouldn’t be long before he returned to Lubbock. Texas Tech offered him a work-study opportunity to work as a photographer for student publications.
Photography had long been a hobby for Halperin, since his father was an avid photographer who had a darkroom in their home to process photos before the digital age.
“My dad gave me my first two cameras,” Halperin said.
During his time at Tech, he recalls visiting the university’s small Hillel House.
Living in communities where he’s been one of the few Jewish individuals has been an opportunity for Halperin to educate others when questions arise.
“I’m always happy to provide some context and I always wanted to make sure I’m educated in providing that context,” Halperin said. “It comes down to respecting traditions and values. It’s a great way to build relationships.”
It was at Tech where Halperin took a special interest in photographing sports. He developed relationships across Red Raider Nation, including one with half-football coach/half-West Texas folk hero William “Spike” Dykes, who coached the Red Raiders from 1986 to 1999.
He also had an opportunity to photograph former Texas Tech President Lauro Cavazos Jr., who was appointed U.S. secretary of education in 1988.
Halperin earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Texas Tech in 1990 and moved to the Dallas area, where his parents had relocated. He’s still very dedicated to his alma mater and currently serves on the national advisory board for Tech’s College of Media and Communication.
School PR career
During Halperin’s newspaper career, he met his wife, Beverly, in the Dallas area. She’s a fellow Tech graduate, but they never crossed paths in Lubbock. They’ve been married for 26 years and have two college-age daughters, Ainsley and Gillian.
After working as a newspaper photographer for about six years, Halperin learned in 1996 about a school public relations position in Mesquite ISD as a communications specialist.
“I’ve only worked for three organizations since I graduated from college 33 years ago,” Halperin said. “I think it’s because I pick a good organization at an optimal time. And then, I find ways to help that organization so that they want to keep me around.”
Once he joined Mesquite ISD, Halperin added writing news releases and features to his repertoire.
The district — and the world around it — changed quite a bit in the 15 years between Halperin starting as a communications specialist in 1996 and when he left as the director of public information in 2011.
“It’s a lot harder now because there’s social media and a 24-hour news cycle,” Halperin said. “The demands on communications staff are so much more than they used to be.”
Still, the one common thread between 1996 and now is the importance of establishing strong relationships, both within and outside of the school district.
Halperin left Mesquite for the neighboring community of Wylie, which had 12,000 students a dozen years ago but has since grown to 19,000.
“I still enjoy what I do and I really like the community of Wylie and Wylie ISD,” Halperin said. “We have a sense of pride in the school district and our students have good character, trust and respect.”
One of Halperin’s most memorable assignments in Wylie came when the district named an elementary campus for former U.S. President George W. Bush.
“We met with him before the ceremony and he was there at the ceremony itself,” Halperin said.
In 2016-2017, Halperin was elected by his peers to serve as TSPRA’s president.
“It was a great honor — so much of what I’ve achieved is through relationships,” Halperin said. “I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without TSPRA.”
Linsae Snider, who retired as TSPRA’s executive director last year, said Halperin did a remarkable job during the year of his presidency and throughout his career.
“Over the years, Ian has been selfless in sharing his expertise in photography, procedures for handling open records, best practices related to crisis communications and tips for enhancing community engagement as well as influencing associations through his servant leadership,” Snider said.
Sports photography work
When Halperin moved to Dallas in 1990, he began working for a variety of freelance photography clients.
One of the most memorable was when he paid many of his own expenses to travel to Atlanta for the 1993 NCAA Women’s Final Four.
His beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders, led by superstar Sheryl Swoopes, defeated The Ohio State Buckeyes, 84-82, in the old Omni Coliseum to win their first national championship in program history.
Halperin is one of the official photographers for the Cotton Bowl Classic. His work with the historic bowl game goes all the way back to when the game was played at the venerable outdoor Dallas Cotton Bowl arena.
In December 2021, Dallas ISD was in the midst of history when South Oak Cliff High was playing for a chance to win the district’s first state football championship since the 1950s.
Dallas ISD Athletics Communications Coordinator Todd Lamb knew just the right person to call for the occasion. South Oak Cliff won the championship and Halperin was at AT&T Stadium to chronicle the moment through his photos in 2021.
“Ian is a tremendous resource for me and is an incredible asset to those in our field,” Lamb said. “He does things the right way and places tremendous value on developing and maintaining relationships.”
One of the few sports photo gigs in the Metroplex that has eluded Halperin is the World Cup. He missed out on it in 1994 but he’s hoping for another chance when the 2026 World Cup comes to Texas.