Varsity Xtra / A new direction: Women athletic directors rising sharply


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The new athletic director at Seneca Valley High School occasionally likes to talk shop with the football coaches.

That isn't unusual, because that's what men do, right?

Except that Seneca Valley's athletic director is a woman.

Heather Lewis is in her first year as Seneca Valley's athletic director. Lewis, 48, is overseeing the operation of 21 sports (11 boys and 10 girls) at the third-largest school in the WPIAL.

But Lewis is part of what is becoming a growing trend in high school athletics across the country -- and also in southwestern Pennsylvania. More women are becoming athletic directors at the high-school level.

Lewis is one of three new women athletic directors in the WPIAL this school year. Monessen's Gina Naccarato and Brashear's Nicole Lockwich are the others. Brashear is a City League school playing a handful of sports in the WPIAL for the first time.

Lewis, Naccarato and Lockwich make seven women who are athletic directors in the WPIAL or City League. This is, by far, the most the league has had at one time. Also, more women have become administrators at state high school associations across the country.

"I'm doing a job I love," Lewis said. "I can talk football with football coaches and I can go to the swimming coaches and talk about tapering."

Bob Buckanavage is the longtime director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association. He said PSADA doesn't have definitive statistics for the number of female athletic directors in Pennsylvania, but he estimates it to be 10 percent. Go back maybe 25 or 30 years, and it was extremely rare to see a woman athletic director anywhere.

"It's a changing landscape with athletic director positions, with more females and more younger members coming aboard as well," said Buckanavage

Mike Blackburn, associate executive director at the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association in Indianapolis, said female athletic directors made up only 10 percent of athletic directors across the country in 2005. In the most recent survey in 2010, the number rose to 15 percent.

"The days of rewarding a coach or former coach by moving them into the AD role are over," Blackburn said. "The athletic director's position is not what it was in the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s. It's not, 'Here are the keys, unlock the gym door, roll the balls out, hire some coaches and game officials.' It's a whole different ballgame now with ADs and you need the best professionals to put in those positions, whether it's male or female."

Some of the athletic director positions in the WPIAL -- for male or female -- are part time. Many, especially at bigger schools, are full-time jobs. In the WPIAL, two of the five largest schools in terms of enrollment now have female athletic directors. Besides Lewis at Seneca Valley, Amy Scheuneman is in her seventh year at Bethel Park, the fifth-largest school in the WPIAL. Scheuneman, 32, also was Avonworth's athletic director for three years before going to Bethel Park.

The other five are:

• Lynn Jobe, 52, is in her third year at Greensburg Salem. She also is a longtime physical education and health teacher at the school, and her athletic director job is considered "half time."

• Naccarato, 34, also is a sixth-grade teacher at Monessen and the Greyhounds girls basketball coach. Her athletic director job is part time.

• Linda Messich, 63, is a retired teacher at Mapletown who is in her 17th year. But for the first 10 of those years, she was the co-athletic director with her husband, George, who is Mapletown's football coach.

• Lockwich, 34, is a special education teacher at Brashear. Although Mike Gavlik is the athletic director for all schools in the City League, each of the six high schools in the City League has a "faculty manager," who is essentially the athletic director of the school. Phyllis Jones also is the faculty manager at Westinghouse High School, but Westinghouse does not compete in the WPIAL in any sports.

• Genny Kozusko, 56, is in her 16th year as athletic director at The Ellis School, a small all-girls school in Shadyside that competes in the WPIAL in 10 sports.

The salaries of high school athletic directors vary greatly depending on, among other things, the size of the school or whether the job is full time. For example, Messich's part-time position at Mapletown in Greene County pays $4,850. Jobe's half-time position at Greensburg Salem pays $17,000. Lewis' full-time salary at Seneca Valley is $85,000.

Lewis, a graduate of Churchill High School (now part of Woodland Hills), was out of the athletics administration business for the past three years, mainly because she was helping care for her terminally ill mother. But she was at Bucknell University for 16 years as a head coach of women's lacrosse, field hockey and also an assistant athletic director.

Lewis said she likes high school sports administration because college sports have become too much like corporations.

"If you love sports and you love education, this is an ideal job," she said. "But I just never think about my gender with my job. ... I'm an educator and I love teaching valuable life lessons through sports. Being in this position, I get to help coaches, I get to interact with kids who are at a really fun age, from seventh grade to varsity athletes. I get to do a little of everything, whereas collegiately you specialize more, whether it's in NCAA compliance, marketing or business."

Dave Synowka is the department head and professor of sports management at Robert Morris University. He believes the number of women athletic directors at the high school level will continue to increase. Synowka said Robert Morris has 220 sports management majors and about 85 are females.

"I remember just eight or nine years ago, you'd walk into a class of 20, and it would be 16 or 17 guys," Synowka said. "Today, you walk into a class of 20, and you might have eight or nine women in there, or maybe even half. In fact, from what I've seen, the women are a little ahead of the guys in a lot of different ways when they graduate, just in terms of their maturity and social skills."

Scheuneman came through Robert Morris' sports-management program and was in her early 20s when she became Avonworth's athletic director (a part-time position). She has to wear many hats at a large school such as Bethel Park. These days, athletic directors have to deal with everything from parents to cuts in athletic budgets.

Bethel Park opened a new 2,450-seat gymnasium in the winter and Scheuneman found herself dealing with architects at times. She is in charge of everything from scheduling transportation for teams to ordering equipment and uniforms.

"I thought I'd try to become an AD later in life," Scheuneman said. "But, once I got into it, it fits my personality. There are never two days the same. You're in and out of the office, dealing with a multitude of personalities and with custodians, school administrators, parents, kids, security, people from other schools. Basically, you're utilizing every skill someone has, and that intrigues me. The more I did it, I found I was good at it and could be successful."

Scheuneman is married, but doesn't have children.

"With the time commitment, it's very difficult to have a family, let alone start one," she said.

The women athletic directors said they don't have to deal with many people who believe their job should be held by a man. But everyone from men and women athletic directors, to other school administrators, believes the increase in women athletic directors is a direct result of Title IX. This is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which promotes equal sports participation and funding for male and female sports.

More girls are playing high school sports because of Title IX and, thus, more females want to get into the athletic administration field. Melissa Mertz, 39, is in her 14th year as associate executive director of the PIAA in Mechanicsburg, the governing body of Pennsylvania high school athletics.

"I have definitely noticed more women in the athletic association business, especially younger women, and that's refreshing," Mertz said. "Yes, I still get some guys who might call me kid or cutie, anyone from coaches to administrators, but I don't take offense to that stuff. I don't think they mean any disrespect.

"I hope I've proven myself enough over the years where people don't just look at me as a 'female administrator.' I love what I'm doing and I wouldn't do anything different."

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For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.


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