In recent weeks there has been much reported regarding the collegiate recruitment process. A lot of it has been negative — usually centering on ‘under the table’ payments or other questionable ‘perks’ to lure talented individuals to specific schools. Throughout all of these proceedings, I don’t ever recall a recruit being swayed by the presence of a Wegmans or Target store. But for Pennsylvania College of Technology athletic director John Vandevere, they were most welcomed attractions.
“When I was offered the job by Elliott Strickland, our Student Affairs Officer, I immediately accepted,” Vandevere recalled. “Elliott responded that I should go home and talk it over with my wife. I told him you’ve got a Wegmans and a Target, what more do we need,” Vandevere joked.
Hired as Penn College’s athletic director fifteen months ago to guide the emerging Penn College athletic program through its infancy at the NCAA Division III level, Vandevere had spent the previous five years as the associate athletic director at Division III State University of New York Canton, where he was responsible for managing a $45 million athletic facility.
“I loved the school and the people I worked with, but coming to Penn College provided me the opportunity to grow as a professional at a wonderful school and at the same time gave my family the chance to geographically get a little closer to our family roots in the Philadelphia area. It is a great fit for me. I had heard of Penn College, but had never been to the Williamsport area. As soon as I got here, I fell in love with the surroundings. It is a beautiful place, and I couldn’t be happier.”
In assessing Penn College’s Division III development, Vandevere feels the transition is going smoothly.
“President Gilmour and Elliott Strickland have provided excellent leadership for our athletic program in growing from what was a provisional status to now a full-fledged Division III program. They’ve given us the opportunity to grow and expand and to do the things that all Divisions III schools have, with the budget adjustments, the buses, and the things needed for our sports. That support has come from the top down.
“Four or five years ago, the College’s leadership came together to decide where they wanted to take the athletic program. President Gilmour’s number one rule is if you are going to do it, you are going to do it right and to the best of your ability. We are going to be top-notch, or we’re not doing it. They determined the best thing for our athletic program was the NCAA. They then put a plan in place to achieve that goal. Over the past few years it has been a gradual buildup, and while we still have a ways to go the college has done a great job getting us to this point. We are growing at a rate that it is exciting to be on campus.
“Myself, I don’t come from a typical Division III school. I have a Division I mentality. I was at Florida Atlantic University for ten years, and a lot of that is embedded in me. How you treat the student-athletes, how you put them in a position to achieve success both in the classroom and on the field, and we are starting to have that transition here now. I anticipate that four or five years down the road we will have multiple teams competing in the NCAA championship tournament. The only variable we have is time. It is going to happen.”
Recognizing Penn College has a large commuter-based student body, the makeup of its athletic participants is changing.
“Athletically, our coaches are going out to all areas of the state, in addition to New York, New Jersey, and Maryland to talk to athletes about Penn College. Our coaches know that whatever kid we may want or need they have the green light to go get them. While at one time we were a smaller commuter-based school; it’s not that way anymore. Look around this campus. We’ve got 1,200 beds. We’ve got great on-campus activities for the students. It’s not just, ‘come here to go to school in the daytime and then go home to Mom and Dad.’ Students here do not have to ‘go away to get away.’ There are so many things this school offers our students both academically and athletically and entering into the NCAA Division III status in another step forward in that direction.”
Competitively Penn College is a member of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) comprised of schools from four states.
“The NEAC is a very diverse conference,” Vandevere explained. “We have six state public schools, seven private schools, and one government-funded school. The league operates in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Our geography is a little bit bigger but in my opinion that is a plus. It gives us the ability to recruit from bigger areas. We can recruit kids from other states and say to Mom and Dad that we will be coming back to these areas and they will have a chance to see their son/daughter play without having to travel. That is a great feature of our conference.
“Where we’ve come from and what we’ve done in the past does not matter anymore. Our coaches have come here from solid Division III programs and they’ve taken us to a different level than Penn College has ever seen. While our Archery and men’s basketball programs have achieved some great results in the past, we are now right there now in all of our sports. Our coaches are doing a great job and it is exciting for everyone to be a Division III school.”