Getting Chestnut Ridge back into a high school football conference will be one of the biggest tasks facing the school's new athletic director, Rich Emerick.
Mark Clevenger, who has moved on from the athletic director's position at Ridge to become the school's assistant high school principal, thoroughly enjoyed his two decades in the school's athletic office - which included the past 11 years as athletic director after having served nine as assistant athletic director.
But Clevenger, 52 - a 1979 Chestnut Ridge graduate who received his principal's certification from Indiana University of Pennsylvania - said that the school's lack of affiliation with a conference has been a difficult issue for the athletic office administration, as well as for the football program.
"I enjoyed every minute of it, but to me, the most trying part of it was not being able to get us back into a football league or conference,'' said Clevenger, noting that the Lions had left the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference several years back and have been playing an independent schedule since. "That's been an ongoing problem that my successor will work to try to solve when the opportunity presents itself.''
Clevenger's successor, Emerick, is moving up to the athletic director's post after spending the past five years as the school's assistant athletic director.
"It's been a goal of mine ever since I started coaching at Ridge when I was 20 years old,'' said Emerick, who has coached varsity track, junior high football, and junior high basketball in the Chestnut Ridge school district. "I'm pretty excited about it. Getting a conference for our football program to play in is maybe my top priority right now. It's been a real chore for us to fill our football schedule the past several years.''
The lack of a conference affiliation has affected Ridge's entire football program, from the seventh-grade level on up through the varsity.
"It's no fun being an independent,'' Clevenger said. "Every year is a struggle to find football games. Because of that, we're not where we need to be with our junior high or seventh-grade programs, but we're the best that we can be, given the circumstances.''
The coaches, athletes and community made Clevenger's time as athletic director special.
"Probably the most rewarding thing to me was seeing all the kids at every level having fun playing sports,'' Clevenger said. "I made a lot of good contacts working with fellow ADs, and I enjoyed my association with the coaches, officials, parents and members of the community who come together to make high school sports happen.''