New Westmoreland County athletic directors working to keep high school sports humming

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Monday, September 21, 2020 | 6:26 PM


The athletic director carousel hasn’t stopped turning in Westmoreland County this year with new faces at new places and newcomers to the position tackling the daily grind of safety protocols and schedule-crunching during covid-19 times.

Brandon Rapp was Norwin’s athletic director for seven years and became a fixture there for coaches and student-athletes. He is one of the more respected men on the job.

But he decided it was time for a change and opted to make a run at the Hempfield job after longtime AD Greg Meisner resigned.

Rapp is taking root after leaving one large-scale Class 6A school for another.

“It certainly was an interesting time to change venues, but I have to say that everyone at Hempfield has been terrific so far,” Rapp said. “Without a doubt, these are not the best circumstances to try to meet new folks and develop those professional relationships that are so important. But to jump in and hit the ground running to pull together a fall season for our student-athletes has been exciting.”

Rapp, 34, is not alone in his new digs. Mike Burrell, who spent a little less than two years as the athletic director at Greensburg Salem, replaced Rapp at Norwin, another case of an AD changing Westmoreland County schools.

Additionally, new ADs are in place at Yough (Scott Morrison), Southmoreland (Dan Boring) and Ligonier Valley (Wesley Siko). Greensburg Salem is looking to fill its vacancy soon.

Morrison, Boring and Siko all are first-year ADs.

Norwin had over 90 applicants for its position. Burrell was in charge of Norwin’s sports teams for a short time in 2013 following the resignation of Randy Rovesti, before he left to become the AD at North Catholic. Rapp stepped in when Burrell departed.

Former Norwin football coach Tim McCabe served as interim AD this time until Burrell was hired for a second time.

The transition has been slow and often tedious for the new wave of men in charge. Each event is handled with kid gloves and abnormally low numbers of fans are coming through the gates.

It has not exactly been an adjustment to normal because normal is out to lunch. But they have managed to keep programs moving forward, even without advice from others who have not gone through this type of year.

First-year ADs are feeling the heat of the fire as they tread through the first months at the post. They will be the precedent-setters for future people in their chairs who might endure the uncertainty a virus outbreak can create.

“It’s really nice to have our athletes back competing again,” Siko said. “There have been some challenges along the way, but with the current situation going on all over the world, I have been taking everything one day at a time.”

Siko, 32, a Greensburg Salem graduate, said support from the district has been a key to him getting out of the gates smoothly.

“My primary goal this year is to create and maintain opportunities for our learner-athletes to compete and do so in a safe manner,” he said.

Corey Turcheck was the AD at Ligonier Valley since 2015 but resigned to teach an entrepreneurial class at the school — and free up some time in his schedule.

Morrison, 43, replaced one of the WPIAL’s longest-tenured ADs in Tom Evans, who worked with Cougars’ athletics for 27 years.

“I would assess my first month on the job in one word: busy,” Morrison said. “There are always challenges when starting something new because there is a learning curve that comes with that. Then you throw in all of the things that come with covid as far as the restrictions, implementing new policies and procedures, and then having things changing constantly … makes for a challenging situation.”

Morrison, a Norwin graduate, also works as a personal trainer at the Sampson Family YMCA along Golden Mile Highway in Plum. Boring, who also is the wrestling coach at Southmoreland, took over for Charlie Swink, who led Scotties’ sports for a decade. The 30-year-old Boring, who graduated from Derry, has coached a number of sports at Southmoreland.

While no one expects to make a career move during a pandemic, they still happen.

“This has been an offseason like no other,” said Rapp, who helped bring WPIAL football and wrestling finals to Norwin and hopes to continue to make Hempfield a postseason stop.

Life goes on for the men and women who keep athletic programs in proper alignment like a chiropractor.

Without ADs, who would handle all of the schedule changes, set up game officials and bus times and recommend the best coaching candidates?

Those are only a few facets of the job, but critical to its success nonetheless.

“We had to hit the ground running and really build those relationships on the fly rather than working together to plan and develop goals in a proactive approach,” said Rapp, who also served as Derry’s AD from 2010-13, also worked with bus transportation and was an assistant school safety and security coordinator at Norwin. But he is solely the AD at Hempfield, which plays Norwin in many sports.

He said there are differences between Norwin and Hempfield, albeit subtle ones.

“I think many would find both districts to be more similar than different,” he said. “Similar schools in terms of size and structure, both with great people and communities.”

Rapp also worked with bus transportation for Norwin and was assistant school safety and security coordinator. He will just handle the athletic programs at Hempfield.

Siko’s new venture came with more than the usual procedural details. Ligonier Valley began competing in the WPIAL at the start of this fall season — football for the first time in 50 years, other sports since the late 1970s.

“I can’t say enough about our athletes,” Siko said. “They are doing everything we ask of them, from social distancing to wearing face masks when appropriate. They understand what needs to be done to have a season. There was definitely a sigh of relief to get all of our sports through the first week, but it was great to see them compete. I’m excited to see what the future holds here at Ligonier Valley.”

Athletic directors form a type of fraternity as they do their jobs and cross paths with one another at events, often times during postseasons.

That rapport will helpful as the seasons change, especially in 2020 which saw spring sports completely wiped out and some winter championships canceled.

Fall sports were slow starting but are now in full motion, with a limit on the number of gatherings set forth by the state.

“There certainly is a camaraderie in the athletic world of the Westmoreland ADs and, frankly, across the WPIAL,” Rapp said. “That is one of the best parts of this profession: not only do we have the opportunity to meet so many great people from our own district and community, but we get to meet so many folks from other districts as well.

“The old saying, ‘It takes a village,’ really does hold true. We could not accomplish what we want in our own districts without the help of those ADs and their staff throughout the league.”

Rapp said it will take a “buy-in and commitment” to each school’s health and safety guidelines to continue to navigate the lurking virus and prolong seasons.

“To this point, we have seen our student-athletes and coaches work so hard to meet every challenge that has been thrown their way,” he said. “So many places have worked tirelessly to develop well thought-out plans to keep our students and staff in a safe and healthy environment. If we all do our best to implement and adhere to those plans, I think that gives us the best chance to see this fall season through.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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