SHARON – The quest to bring athletics back to Penn State Shenango’s campus started as just a dream for Campus Director Dr. Jo Anne Carrick.
“I’m a dreamer,” she said. “I like to imagine things that could happen and then make them happen.”
The journey began roughly four years ago.
Carrick said there were some bumps along the way, but in February 2017, the branch campus was officially reinstated to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association to compete as a member of the Penn State University Athletic Conference.
Sharon will get its first taste of local collegiate athletics in more than 20 years when members of Penn State Shenango’s new men’s basketball program take the court on Nov. 10. A women’s volleyball program is scheduled to begin play in 2019, and Carrick said the campus hopes to add more sports as the athletic program continues to grow.
The campus hired Andre Smith as athletic director and head men’s basketball coach in April 2017. A former basketball standout and assistant coach at Youngstown State University, Smith is experienced with young programs, having built Lourdes University’s basketball program from the ground up before accepting the position in Sharon.
Smith said he’s already added eight players to the basketball roster, and hopes to add several more before team conditioning begins in August.
But to bring the program back to its previous form, Carrick said she first had to look to the past.
“To bring it back, we first have to look at why it stopped,” she said. “We found that it wasn’t relevant to why we don’t start again.”
Penn State Shenango’s athletic program thrived before disappearing completely in the mid- to late-90s. Carrick said its teams’ home games served as a destination for people all over the Shenango Valley and provided a welcomed boon to the local economy.
So Carrick developed a task force spearheaded by Bill Dungee, who was hired as Penn State Shenango’s director of finance and business after working with the Farrell Area School District for more than seven years.
Dungee’s task force consisted of college faculty, students and community members to determine the feasibility of bringing back the athletic program. Dungee said he also surveyed high school students and school districts to gauge interests and determine which sports to add to the program first.
“It was good for us to be able to start from ground zero,” Dungee said. “It was evident right away how much interest there was.”
Athletics play a significant role in student enrollment, Carrick said, and with the Shenango campus being the last Penn State campus to start an athletic program, Dungee said it was clear that’s exactly what the campus needed.
“We looked at the Beaver campus and found that every one out of seven students there is an athlete,” he said. “And we were missing that component.”
Identifying usable facilities was the task force’s main focus, and since the university collaborated with the Buhl Center in the past, Carrick said the rekindled partnership was the perfect match.
Penn State Shenango signed a three-year contract with the Buhl Center in April. Between the necessary upgrades to the Buhl Center, administrative costs, and the financial partnership between the two entities, the startup cost to reinstate the athletic program was about $102,000.
Upgrades to the Buhl Club’s 115-year-old building at East State Street and Pine Avenue included new paint, lighting, wall padding, scoreboards and backboards. The nearly 50-year-old gym floor was also replaced, striped and polished off with an official Penn State logo.
The gym will still be open to Buhl Club members when not in use by the campus’ teams.
Penn State Shenango teams will also have their own home locker room, which includes new lockers, updated sinks and showers, a whirlpool and new signage. The locker room also has a whiteboard and television for diagraming plays and watching game films.
“With it not being our own facility, there were only so many things we could do,” Smith said. “We’ve done everything we can to make it our own.”
Carrick also mentioned adding student housing in the future for both athletes and the regular student body.
“We’ve had some discussions with private investors,” she said. “(Housing) would attract students in general. It would make them really feel like a part of the community and get the full college experience.”
But for now, the Penn State Shenango dreamer is just looking forward to watching the local Nittany Lions take the court for the first time this fall.
“These may not be kids who are going to play in the NBA, but they love working out and being college students,” she said. “Now they get to put on that Penn State uniform, and they are connected to that. It’s pretty cool.”
The above article is from the Sharon Herald
Photo By CORY BYKNISH | Herald
Picture of Coach Andre Smith stands on the newly renovated basketball court at the Buhl Club in Sharon.