York High athletic director Ron Coursey didn't head the school's athletic department for long, but in the short time he did, he left his imprint on it.
Hired in January of 2016, Coursey is already moving on to another job after getting approved, and accepting, the Woodland Hills High School AD position in suburban Pittsburgh in mid-April. He's expected to begin that job on July 1.
Coursey, who is a Baltimore native, previously spent time in the Pittsburgh area before taking the AD position at York High. His job immediately prior to York High was in Washington, D.C., but before that, he served as the dean of students and student support specialist at Propel Schools in Munhall, Allegheny County, the same county where Woodland Hills is located.
According to the online agenda on the Woodland Hills School District site, Coursey is set to make $95,000 per year, plus receive $3,000 for relocation. He was approved by a 7-2 vote by the board to replace retiring AD and football coach George Novak.
"I definitely was not looking for another job and was not planning on leaving this soon," Coursey said. "...I intentionally told them that I was not looking for a new position. However ... the school district basically reached out and expressed an interest in me to become the next AD at their school."
Thrown into the fire: When Coursey was hired by York High, he was tasked with replacing longtime athletic director Joe Chiodi, who retired after serving for 47 years at the school. Chiodi had learned that he would not be rehired for the AD position. Immediately, Coursey was thrown into the fire, having to make two high-profile coaching hires for both the football team and boys' basketball team.
He earned praise for both hires, although it was not universal. He brought in former Spring Grove coach Russ Stoner to lead the struggling football program and hired longtime boys' basketball assistant Clovis Gallon as the successor to Troy Sowers, who had built York High into a District 3 and state basketball power. Neither program had great success on the field or court last season, but some stability was achieved. With Stoner, the football program had a hard-nosed coach who held players accountable and established higher expectations. With Gallon, he made the simple and obvious choice, despite several other strong candidates.
After dealing with those two hirings within his first month and a half running the athletic department, Coursey made it a priority to bring back several varsity sports, including softball, baseball, competitive cheer, wrestling, soccer, tennis and cross country. It was a three-year plan, with Coursey hoping to introduce baseball and competitive cheer for this year, boys' and girls' soccer, boys' and girls' tennis, wrestling and softball next year and boys' and girls' cross country in 2018-19.
Coursey also made it a point to increase the academic standards of York High's student-athletes. He held mandatory after-school study-hall sessions for all athletes who were competing in-season.
Lastly, he brought with him from Propel Schools a special basketball game that gave high school athletes the opportunity to play in an NBA arena. Called the "Court of Dreams" program, Coursey helped to organize a regular-season game between York High and Steel High at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, home of the 76ers and Flyers. The two teams played before the Sixers-New York Knicks game on Jan. 15. The team then had a chance to stay and watch the NBA contest. It was a game he had done a number of times before in Pittsburgh between his school and a team from Cleveland at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena before a Cavaliers game.
"I'm very proud of everything we were able to accomplish," Coursey said. "For me, the biggest piece that we were able to accomplish was for our kids to recognize what it means to be a student-athlete and to focus on the academic piece. ... That's the biggest thing that I'm proud of. Just getting kids to value and appreciate their education and invest in their future."
Coursey also had to deal with a couple tragic events during his York stay — including the murder of York High football player Eugene Hillian and and a shooting outside of Small Field during a varsity football game. That forced the school to switch from Friday night games to Saturday day games.
With his experience in making major coaching hires, Coursey might have to do more of the same when he goes back to Pittsburgh. According to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story, several members of of the public voiced their displeasure over newly hired football coach Kevin Murray and demanded that the board reconsider its 5-4 approval of him.
Because of Coursey's expected start date at Woodland Hills of July 1, it's unlikely he'll be expected to hire a new football coach that close to the start of the season.
Time frame for hiring new AD uncertain: York City School District superintendent Eric Holmes was not available for comment Monday regarding Coursey's position, so the time frame for hiring a new AD is uncertain. York City School District information specialist Erin James did say she expects the AD position to be posted within the coming days and that typically the application process is open for about two weeks. She expects the district to move quickly in trying to fill the position.
Coursey did say he would help his successor transition into the role, if the district seeks it.
"If the district feels as though they want me to be involved in transitioning my successor, I would gladly and humbly accept that responsibility," he said. "The kids are the most important thing in this transition and anything I can do to help them and our school district keep moving in a positive direction that we built, I'm all for it."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org