Wildcat Athletics Q&A
An interview with Douglas T. Byerly, director of athletics.
Photos by Larry Kauffman, except as credited.
You’ve been trying to ignite more excitement around the athletics program on campus. What does that mean to the athletes?
We’ve done some very, very small baby steps, for lack of a better term. We offered some game promotions that we had not been doing on a consistent basis. At our basketball games, we offer consessions and PA announcing, with introduction of lineups and call of the game action, attempting to provide that “true” collegiate event atomsphere. Also, we have plans for radio broadcast of 10 basketball games for 2009 on WLYC/ESPN 1050 AM-104.1 FM and via www.espnwilliamsport.com. We’ve done some of those activities throughout the years, but we’re trying to maybe come up with a more consistent plan. We’re looking at putting together a game-day promotions calendar where we would work with Student Activities, student government and Greek Life to offer, for example, Greek Life night in Bardo Gym. Somebody had a good idea that I think we’re going to pursue. “Feed the Neighborhood,” it would be called, where you bring in a canned good through Greek Life at one of our basketball games. So it gives a reason for the kids to come as part of their organization and support the teams.
We’d love to get other groups and organizations here on campus involved with our athletic programs, and we’d love to do it starting right in the fall by doing a couple of promotions for the soccer teams. Our goal is just to increase the game-day promotions and increase the awareness of our campus community as to what the student athletes have to offer: pretty exciting play.
What has joining the USCAA and its opportunities to play for national championships done for student athletes?
I think it’s been a real nice reward for them. A great example is our men’s soccer team. They’ve now won five league championships in a row, and previously, that was it. They’d win the league championship, and their season was finished. Now they get rewarded by having a chance to go to the national tournament, which they did. The women went to Vermont, and the men went to Rochester, Mich., and had a chance to play for a legitimate national championship. Also in the fall, cross country went to the national championships and finished third. Another great example is our men’s basketball team. They had a solid year and made the PSUAC playoffs but lost an exciting home playoff game here in Bardo Gym. So they got knocked out of the league playoffs but got rewarded with an at-large bid to the national tournament, and went out there and were very competitive. They finished sixth overall, won a couple of ball games, and showed that they can play at that national level.
I think it just gives them the reward for all their hard work during the season to then compete at a whole other level. All of those teams were able to see how much work they still have to do to really have a chance to win a national championship. There’s a little bit of a gap yet between where we are and where those one or two teams are that win the championships. But we’re pretty close.
What should the community know about Penn College athletics?
I would say they should know that we offer probably a lot more programs than they realize: 14 athletic teams and a dance team. So there are certainly many opportunities for participation on both the male and female side. Two, I think they should know that the teams are very competitive, not only in our conference – the Penn State University Athletic Conference – but many of them have a chance to be very competitive at the national level, as well, with the USCAA. So students have a chance to play for a league title, and they could have a chance to play postseason for a national title.
And even if students would want to come here and would not want to play a varsity sport, there are some club sports available, and there are a ton of intramural programs that we do a very nice job with. So, athletically, students can get their fill even if they don’t participate in a varsity program. There’s always something to do. And that’s really the goal in the end. We want to provide healthy alternative activities for our student body, and that’s what it’s all about.
You replaced Mike Stanzione, who was the athletic director for 17 years. What would you like to say about your predecessor?
I would just say – and I’ve said it to everybody – Mike’s been a tremendous asset to me, staying on board here and continuing to handle all the daily tasks that must be coordinated in an athletic department: scheduling, transportation, handling all the day-in, day-out money for teams going here and there.
Mike’s really done a great job, has really been a trouper in helping with the transition, and he’s really taken athletics from its infancy, when we reinstituted the programs and had three sports, all the way up to 14 sports. Penn College athletics would not be where it is without Mike’s hard work and dedication, and I’ll be sorry to see him leave. ■
More of the interview
How did you come to pursue a career in sports administration?
I started out like so many people do. I’m a state-school guy; I went to Shippensburg (University), got my teaching degree in history, and went back to my home district (Line Mountain). That was not planned, but that’s the way it worked out. I got a coaching and part-time teaching job for the first year, which then led the next year to a full-time teaching job, and I stayed there for 13 ½ years.
I did all the normal things you do at a small school: taught and coached numerous sports. I ended up coaching baseball, football, girls basketball and weight training, all as an assistant coach. Over the years, we had some really good teams, and it was a good experience.
I was in the classroom at the high school level for eight years, and I was at the middle school level for the rest of the time. And I kind of got to that point in my career – I was a single person, and I was looking at, “Well, do I want to do this for 25 or 30 years, or do I want to look to do something else?” While I enjoyed it a great deal, I thought, “Let’s try to do something else.” So I checked into master’s programs in sports administration, because I always felt that would be an area that I would enjoy and could have a chance to be pretty productive at doing.
I went to West Chester (University) – they have a very good sports administration program – and did some work there. I actually flipped the course around. I did an internship first, while I was still teaching back in Line Mountain, and took a sabbatical, did my class work, and finished up a second internship at Susquehanna University with now-retired Athletic Director Don Harnum. I had a nice experience there, and then I started looking.
I knew that this is something I’d like to pursue and looked at both the scholastic level and beyond. I was not married, no kids, and could leave, and I was very fortunate to get an opportunity at Lock Haven University. (Lock Haven) had an opening in its camp and conference office, which is part of its foundation, but I worked every day with its Athletic Department in running all its summer camp and conference programs, which were really all sports programs. So, I got the position there, left my home school and had a great experience. I was there about 6 ½ years, just under seven. It was a good time in the economy, and the sports programs grew. I got to make a lot of contacts, and as often happens, it opens some doors.
I was doing radio on the side as a hobby, so I made some connections at places like Bucknell (University), where they had an opening in athletics development. That was not an area that I was particularly interested in – in fundraising – but as I learned and talked to people, at the collegiate level, fundraising on the athletics side is a big part of what you do – at least knowing how it works. So I left Lock Haven, and I always kind of laugh when I tell this story: I literally gave up a two-minute walk to work – I lived right across the street from Lock Haven University – still do – for a 55-minute drive to Bucknell. But it served the purpose that I hoped it would. I was hoping it wouldn’t be a long-term thing, and it was not. I was there two years, almost to the exact day.
I made a ton of contacts, and lo and behold this job came open, and obviously I was very interested in moving up into athletics administration. This was a great opportunity for me, being pre-NCAA, where the programs are very competitive, and the college still has a chance to grow the programs. And so, I threw my hat in the ring and was very fortunate to be considered and be offered the job.
It was a pretty easy decision for me to make, both on the professional side and on the practical side. My wife works here in Williamsport as a teacher in the Williamsport Area School District, and I cut my drive in half, and all those good things on top of the professional things. So I’ve been very fortunate. It’s been a nice transition from the scholastic and high school level and my home school to a real nice university at Lock Haven to a little different university at Bucknell – private and NCAA Division 1 and very competitive. I had some national experiences there with the basketball team. And then here, to a program that has a real chance to grow and continue to develop the good things that the college has started.
How does Penn College foster championship teams, even though we don’t offer scholarships and students face challenging class and laboratory schedules?
I really think the cliché is true: Kids who are competitive, who are in sports, want to continue to play while they’re young, and they only have one chance to do it. Nobody from this level is probably going to go pro, or very, very few are going to ever have that chance.
So I think it’s just that they enjoy the game. They want to continue to play for those three to four years beyond high school, because most people, as you know, scholastically, that’s it. That’s as far as they go. That’s as far as I went. I did not play in college. Most people, when they get that opportunity, they want to continue that for a couple of years, so I think that’s the motivation for the athletes.
I think we’re in a unique situation here where kids, because we offer associate-degree programs and bachelor-degree programs, can come here and play two years and be done (playing) and be done with their degree, as well, and move on, or they can stay for those additional two years and go toward a bachelor’s and play the additional two years. So I think that’s a nice option that’s out there.
Now, of course, kids can play one year and be done at any level – don’t get me wrong – but I think we have a nice mix of programs, academically. I think we have enough athletic programs where there’s a variety. We have 14 athletic teams and our dance team that we count as a varsity program, so there’s a lot of opportunity to be involved. We’d like to take a look at some additional club sports, potentially, as well, that would give other students the opportunity to participate.
I think our students play because they enjoy it, they want to continue their careers for a couple of years, and certainly we can never knock anybody for wanting to do that.
Are there any teams that have not been in the spotlight lately but deserve some recognition?
Most of our teams are competitive enough that they’ve probably all been pretty much in the spotlight, literally from the start in the fall, with golf, cross country and the soccers that went to the national tournament. So many of the teams are in the spotlight because of the success that they have on the fields of play.
I think two of the programs that might get lost a little bit in the shuffle would be the two volleyball programs. In the fall, we have the women’s volleyball program. They do a nice job. They’re pretty competitive. They made the playoffs and lost in the first round. Coach Bambi Hawkins, (Assistant) Coach Amber Dreese and their crew do a nice job, but they’ve not won a championship for a couple of years, so they’ve kind of been out of that mix a little bit.
And then their counterpart, the men’s volleyball team, had a real nice run a few years ago where they had made the playoffs for four years in a row. Last year they did not; this year they were up for an at-large bid but did not get selected.
They are two programs that have been competitive over the years, that have a chance to jump right on up and be in the championship hunt, so to speak, but maybe this year they’ve kind of taken a back seat to the others.
They’re great kids. A great example is our men’s volleyball. They were the team that stepped up, and they ran our concession stand as a fundraiser at the men’s and women’s basketball games. They were there supporting the other student athletes.
They are doing another fundraiser that is a tournament. It will be Aug. 29, rain or shine. It’s called the Wildcat Smackdown. It’s an outdoor volleyball tournament. They’re following a model of a tournament in Pottstown that’s been done for years. They’re hoping to get about 95 to 100 two-person teams. Again, it’s a good example of a team that sees an opportunity to do something additional to raise the profile of the program and in turn raise money, so that they can support what they’re trying to do. That’s a good thing.
Those two programs probably more than any others, may have been out of the spotlight a little bit but certainly have done some great things this year, and we’re looking for some real nice things from both of those programs next year, as well.
What has joining the USCAA and its opportunities to play for national championships done for student athletes?
I think, one, it helps to expose our school, something real key on the non-athletics side. It gets the name of Pennsylvania College of Technology – Penn College – out there. People say: Where’s that? What’s that a part of? Where are you guys located? What do you do? I think it just is another way to expose people to our institution. In the end, we’re all here to recruit people to come here. On the athletics side, we’re selfish; we want them to come here and play a sport. But hey, you know what? If they come here and just do what they do academically, and get involved in other things, that’s great, too.