Nate Althouse now can add another title to his athletic career.
Althouse, 42, is starting his first year as the Penns Valley Area High School athletic director, succeeding Don Hosterman, who was fired in February for stealing ticket money from sporting events and Mountain League funds, arrested, tried and sentenced to house arrest.
It’s a homecoming for Althouse, who coached the Penns Valley boys’ basketball team for six years, drawing on his experience as a Penn State player. Holding a Penn State doctorate in counseling, he comes to his job from working as an academic adviser for student athletes at the university’s Morgan [Academic Support] Center [for Student-Athletes].
He and his wife, Sasha, a Penns Valley teacher, have three young children, Spencer, Harper and Summer.
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Why did you take the AD position?
Last summer we made the decision to move back to the district. We lived in Pleasant Gap, but Spencer was going to school, and we wanted him to go to school in Penns Valley. We just liked the quality of education. Obviously, with Sasha working here, we’re very knowledgable about the philosophies [here], and it just meshed with what we wanted for our kids as far as education and opportunities, extracurricular activities. So we moved back last year, and Sasha and I were on two different schedules. I was on my Penn State schedule; she was on her Penns Valley schedule. Being on the same schedule, it’s nice to be able to speak the same language when we’re talking about events.
But I think professionally, based on my experiences in working with student-athletes and teaching at Penn State, and coaching, and my connection to the valley, it just seemed like something I could take my collective experiences and just ... apply them to an entire program. It’s half my job, though. The other is community relations.
What are your roles as a communications liason?
Branding is a big part of it: Making sure that we are represented in the media outlets. My job isn’t necessarily to write pieces. I’m not supposed to be the voice. I’m supposed to facilitate getting our teachers ... Because teachers are sometimes reluctant to brag or talk about what they’re involved with nationally. We used to have a group that went to Africa to do some research ... They’ve got the stories. I’ll encourage them, when there are notable events and exciting things that are happening in their classrooms, if there are creative ways they are boosting student achievement, we want to announce that to the world, and also invite collaboration from the community. ... It’s a new position, so that’s a work in progress.
What are some of your goals for that position?
We want to make sure we’re being advocates for our students, and for our teachers. Education sometimes takes a beating in the political forums, and we want to make sure we are spreading the message of what we’re doing to enhance student achievement. Because we think we have a responsibility to our taxpayers. We need to be responsible stewards of tax money, so we want them to know that the product we’re putting out, how we are serving the students of the district, we’re doing it well. We’re not taking it lightly. There’s a lot of school lingo and test lingo and educationalese that we need to communicate to [the public]. Even for educators, it’s confusing. To try to make it more understandable, and communicate that with the community at large, is important.
How do you see the relationship between that job and being the athletic director?
OK, community relations. You can look this up, but somebody, somewhere, said if education is the house, the front porch is athletics, something to that effect. For some people, their only connection our community in our school is what they see when they come to an athletic event.
So one of the things: We met with all the teams and said, ‘Look, you all are’ — this is important for them to learn later on — ‘You’re not just representing yourself. You’re an ambassador for this district. You’re an ambassador for this community. Because the only thing people might know about Penns Valley is what they see when they come to see you on Friday night.’
As a referee, I’ve gone to a lot of venues where the fans have ... It’s all I know to go on from that community. I’ll base my judgment on that community based on: ‘Wow, those fans were just jerks.’ ... So from the time [other fans] walk into our school, they see our facilities, they talk to our people, every single [Penns Valley] person is a representative of our district. Community relations is not just my job. It’s to reinforce that everybody has a stake in this.
When you look ahead, do you feel you have some rebuilding to do after the Ram Centre controversy and Don Hosterman?
I think the Ram Centre controversy, as dividing as it was, at this point it’s not ... I don’t feel there are unresolved issues that are creating more rifts down the road. I think, for the most part, the community has been to say, ‘OK, chapter over.’
As for our fiscal responsibility with athletics, we’re taking measures. ... Well, we need to be better with the conditions that were in effect for out ticket-taking practices. We can’t blame them, but the way we were collecting money made it easier to for something to happen.
What are some of the measures you’re taking?
We used to have, at our football games on Friday night, you’d drive up and there would be four ticket sellers there. And you would just get your tickets in your car, almost like a drive-in movie theater. It’s not that we don’t trust our people selling tickets, but what’s to say, somebody comes in, drives along and you say, ‘Here that’ll cost you $20.’ Nobody’s collecting tickets. That’ll be $20, and the ticket-taker pockets $10. You don’t need tickets; nobody’s collecting tickets. ... There’s no correspondence to money in and tickets sold.
We have a fence around the stadium. You purchase your ticket at one place, you have to give it to someone else at another place. So at the end of the night, we know we took in X amount of dollars; we had X amount of tickets sold. We have X amount of complimentary tickets.
There’s more accountability there.
Yes. And the counting of the money will take place once the event is over. Boom, we close up the boxes. It’s counted at central administration. Which is nice. It takes some pressure off me because anything to do with money ... If you’re buying a program, don’t give the money to me.
Knowing the community as you do, do you think people see what happened as just one person or a problem with the system?
One person made the decision, OK? [But] the conditions that were in place made it easier because who’s going to miss $10 here, $20 here, if there’s no accountability? ... Regardless of the public opinion as to where the problems lie, we want to say that we have a responsibility to fix how we go about collecting money.
What are some other goals for the year with the athletic program?
There are two things that I think are important for an athletic department. The first one is, I told you about, that we’re ambassadors. When we go to a league banquet, we look like we’re there ... like you should dress for a banquet, dressed as professional as you can.
The other thing is we’re an extension of the classroom. Athletics is a considerable expenditure for our district, so we’re trying to, not necessarily change the culture, but we need to emphasize the teachable moments that are a part of sports.
[Showing a list in the athletic program handbook for coaches] These are the top 19 skills and qualities employers seek in college grads in the workforce. We took those 19 skills and we broke down how each skill is developed through sports. ... Playing on a team isn’t necessarily going to improve your SAT score in math, but [it might develop] the soft skills that employers are looking for. We want our coaches to use this, the teachable moments within sports, and these are all examples of how that’s developed, to talk about and to try and make the connection between the lessons that are learned in athletics and how they will be applied outside.
Are there lessons from the Morgan Center you can apply to younger athletes?
This goes along with being the ambassador, but with social media, Penn State is very socially conscious. ... It’s an issue with everybody, parents included. Parent communication sometimes, something that might start up on Facebook that somebody’s disgruntled about something, it gets blown up. We talk about the image. You’re not just representing you. So if you do something or put something out there that’s not representative of who we are as a school, or who we want to be portrayed as a school, or a team, that hurts everybody. And once you put something out there, even if you delete it, it’s out there, and you don’t know how many people have seen it. So you need to take that extra second before you hit ‘send.’ ...
The passive-agressive way people criticize on line, we want to nip that in the bud, if you have something bad to say, or if you have a criticism of the way we do things. We want to teach our students how to deal with conflict. [Social media] is not the way to do it. If parents have an issue, if kids have an issue, we want to foster direct communication and try to handle things the way we would expect adults and emerging adults to do.
Anything else you’re planning for the year?
Taking it through the lens that this is the last time that a lot of these kids are going to wear a uniform, be a part of something like this, that they are going to have people pay money to come see them play and represent a team, so to think about it like that, this is the last chance to do this. If they’re fortunate enough to go play sports in college, that’s wonderful, but ... we want to look at it like this is the last chance they have and make it as special as possible.