A few more doors open for Black athletic directors as WPIAL tries to promote diversity

Saturday, July 11, 2020 | 6:00 AM

When Sto-Rox hired LaRoi Johnson as athletic director this summer, he used social media to thank those who had opened doors for him in his career.

His list included friends, colleagues and mentors.

“I’m happy for all of the people who helped me so much,” said Johnson, a first-time school administrator. “All of the people who stuck out their necks and wanted to see me succeed.”

But while announcing his new job, Johnson also celebrated a recent rise in racial diversity in high school athletic offices across Western Pennsylvania. He is one of four African Americans hired this summer as athletic directors at WPIAL schools, raising the district total to 10.

Also hired since March were Andre Carter at Leechburg, Cedric Brown at Winchester Thurston and Ron Moncrief at St. Joseph.

“You come from a little different background,” Johnson said, “so you know how important it is that that side gets an opportunity to speak about issues.”

The four join Woodland Hills’ Ron Coursey, Union’s Stacy Robinson, Nazareth Prep’s Latonya Salley-Sharif, Ellis School’s Shayla Scott, Pine-Richland’s Sean Simmons and Imani Christian’s Cliff Simon as Black athletic directors in the WPIAL.

With nearly 130 high schools, they account for 8% of ADs.

“I am ecstatic with the new hires,” Coursey said. “I’ve long been a proponent of diversity within the WPIAL and the PIAA. For me, it’s always been a little frustrating when you take a look at the big picture. When you attend these district meetings or PIAA meetings, there are very few faces of color in those meeting rooms. Yet, when we have sporting events, it’s a very diverse field.”

Coursey recently was elected to the WPIAL board of directors, becoming that group’s only minority member. He is entering his fourth year at Woodland Hills.

“I’m very, very excited that the leadership of some of these (athletic) departments is starting to reflect — at least a little bit closer — the demographics that make up the student athletes,” Coursey said. “It’s a good start. We still have a ways to go.”

The WPIAL recently placed an added emphasis on diversity in its administration. WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman announced plans last month to create a diversity advisory council to strengthen the voice of underrepresented communities.

Scheuneman became the district’s first female executive director July 1.

“It is encouraging to see the expansion of diversity in the position of athletic director,” Scheuneman said. “There was a time when there were very few minorities — be it race or gender — in this role. Now, younger generations can aspire to be athletic directors because they see folks just like them in the position.”

Winchester Thurston’s commitment to diversity is what drew Brown from Ferguson-Florissant School District near St. Louis, Mo.

Before becoming an administrator, Brown played Division I football at Southern Illinois and later Division III basketball at Lehman in New York. He also coached basketball.

“If you look into what the school is all about, the two words that come to my mind are ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ ” Brown said. “Being an African American man, those things are so very important to me. Young people of all races and all ethnicities need an opportunity to get a quality education.”

Carter was Leechburg’s girls basketball coach for two seasons when the school hired him as athletic director. He is a graduate of Valley and Duquesne.

Johnson was Sto-Rox’s football coach for two seasons before the school board voted to make him athletic director. The Peabody graduate played college football at Malone.

Born in Detroit and raised in Kansas, Moncrief originally was drawn to Western Pennsylvania by Robert Morris’ sports management program. He joined St. Joseph’s administration after seven years at Vincentian Academy, which closed its doors this summer.

“There’s already a lot of diversity within our sports,” Moncrief said. “It’s great to see that we’re getting a chance at leadership positions as well.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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