By Matt Popchock


Given the state-wide economic downturn and recent cuts to education, a lot of WPIAL athletic departments are feeling the effects. However, three northern area schools appear to have left their sports programs in very capable hands, despite the daunting task of hiring new ADs.

History was made last week when Seneca Valley formally introduced Heather Lewis as their first-ever female athletic director. Lewis coached field hockey and women’s lacrosse at the collegiate level while serving as assistant athletic director at Bucknell.

She enters her new position at a good time for Seneca Valley sports. The baseball team is coming off back-to-back WPIAL championships, the basketball team enjoyed a lengthy playoff run into last season’s state tournament, the girls’ volleyball team is preparing to defend its district title, the lacrosse programs have grown rapidly, and the football team looks poised to take another big step forward this season.

The football game between the Raiders and Northern Eight Conference rival Pine-Richland Fri., Sept. 7 at NexTier Stadium could be an interesting one. Seneca Valley could be a player in the Class AAAA title chase, and the Rams could be improved this year, especially since head coach Clair Altemus now has more time to devote to that job.

One of the elder statesmen of WPIAL football, Altemus stepped down as athletic director after a 15-year tenure. Former Knoch AD Joshua Shoop earned the right to replace him at P-R following an exhaustive search by district officials this summer.

Shoop had been Knoch’s athletic director since 2003 and served briefly as boys’ basketball head coach; reportedly, he will, in fact, continue working with his players until the new academic year is in full swing. One of his proudest moments was watching the Knights reach the WPIAL Football Championships last fall for the first time since 1992.

It’s been a while since a young man named Neil Walker helped Pine-Richland reach Heinz Field, but the school has also enjoyed success in girls’ volleyball and soccer, not to mention baseball, prior to Altemus’ semi-retirement, while frequently hosting the WPIAL Diving Championships. Furthermore, even amidst these trying times, that school district is in decent economic shape and has maintained cutting-edge athletic facilities.

While Shoop walks into a comfortable situation, one of his former subordinates, Mike King, has walked into another. King, the head coach who led Knoch football on that impressive run in 2011, will perform double-duty, adding the AD title to his resume as he prepares for his 15th year of coaching the football program.

You might say it’s a job fit for a King. King, a Knoch alumnus, raises two kids within the district, and has always been very hands-on and very passionate about the various programs there. As the Knights move into the new Northeastern Conference in Class AAA, the glory of last season could signal the start of a new direction for Knoch football, which returns good skill and a plentiful senior class to the gridiron in 2012.

King’s new salary has not been confirmed, but Lewis and Shoop are each expected to make over $80,000 at their new jobs.

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)