North Xtra: New Seneca Valley AD has stunning resume
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A few hours away from what was arguably the biggest sporting event Heather Lewis would ever play in, it wasn't lacrosse that was on Lewis' mind.
The final exam she was taking occupied her thoughts.
Lewis, hired as the new athletic director at Seneca Valley last week, was a student at the University of Maryland in 1986. One of the two sports she played at the Division I level for the Terrapins (field hockey the other) was conducting its NCAA national championship on the College Park campus that year.
The host team advanced to the final -- and end up winning it, 11-10, against Penn State. Lewis looks back at that triumph with pride. But she also fondly recalls the "A" she got on the 10 a.m.-to-noon exam that preceded the 3 p.m. national championship game.
"There aren't many athletes who take finals the morning of a national championship game," Lewis said. "You go and you do your work [academically] and you pass, then you switch gears and compete as an athlete."
Lewis' experience as a two-sport Division I athlete while taking on a challenging course of study at a school with a solid academic reputation is only a small part of her resume that made her qualified to be hired as Seneca Valley's new athletic director.
After being selected from a pool of more than three dozen candidates vetted through a four-pronged interview process, Lewis was approved by the school board Aug. 6.
"I think being able to handle those rigors helped me create the organizational abilities to handle what I'll be experiencing right now today," Lewis said.
What Lewis was experiencing as she spoke Monday was overseeing an athletic department that began its official fall sports practice schedule -- on only her fourth day on the job.
That meant a wirlwind of meeting coaches and staff, touring facilities, setting up an office and setting and executing an agenda.
"Short-term, we want to make sure the student athletes are able to ... have just the best possible daily experience to start their season," Lewis said.
"Long-term, I'm ambitious and I have a vision in which eventually when people talk about Seneca Valley and talk about the Seneca Valley athletic program that they consider it a model.
"[That includes] off the field, on the field, and in the way we do things the right way. We want to be competitive and successful and prepare our student athletes for the rest of their lives and have them represent Seneca Valley in a manner that would make Seneca Valley proud."
Lewis often used the team "education through sports" in describing her philosophy. Her background in that area goes well beyond playing two sports at the University of Maryland.
Lewis, who now lives in McCandless, attended Woodland Hills High School. She originally planned on being a veterinarian (her undergraduate degree from Maryland is in zoology) but ultimately ended up pursuing a calling she always had deep inside her.
"I have spent my life in sports," Lewis said. "From being a WPIAL athlete to a two-sport athlete at the University of Maryland onto coaching and administrating, my life and my passion is sports. And I couple that with a strong belief that we can educate through sports."
Lewis has done plenty of that through the years in a career of varied experiences. She earned a master's in kinesiology from Maryland, was the head field hockey coach, women's lacrosse coach, associate athletic director and assistant athletic director at Bucknell University.
Lewis also served as the chief operating officer for a United States Olympic Committee National Governing Body. Her duties involved supporting women's national team qualifications for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and hosting three major events for the international federation of hockey.
Lewis additionally has been president of the National Field Hockey Coaches Association and an official for the NCAA.
"When we began accepting applications, and when Heather's application came in and the cover letter and resume came to my desk ... I said, 'This candidate is exceptional,'" Seneca Valley superintendent Dr. Tracy Vitale said.
"Her credentials were absolutely exceptional."
First Published August 16, 2012 12:00 am