Ron Pavlechko runs a complex operation.
Pavlechko, 61, of Boalsburg, oversees dozens of teams and coaches and hundreds of athletes as the State College Area High School athletic director. For 14 years, he has resolved challenges big and small. The former Penn State offensive lineman also coached the football team for 19 years, and he’s still savoring the state runner-up Little Lions’ season last fall.
What brought you to State College?
I student-taught here, and I was hired as an English teacher. And I had not talked to (then head football coach) Jim Williams or anybody about coaching, in all honesty. And Jim called me one day in the summer and said, “Hey, we’re going to have an opening. Would you be interested in it?” ... And I’d heard good things about State College, and about Jim Williams in particular, the football program and where it was going, and I thought, “Yeah, I think I can contribute.”
What was an early challenge?
Probably making the move from collegiate athletics to high school athletics, in terms of the commitment level required. ... I had come from the Penn State program, where Joe Paterno ran a tight ship. We were expected to be there. If the meeting was 4 o’clock, we were expected to be there at 3:45. When I came here, I learned that a kid may not come to practice because his parents took him on a vacation.
What was the best thing about coaching?
The best thing was seeing kids grow, seeing kids get better at the skills, better at dealing with the parts of life that were coming at them. To see kids — I guess it’s a corny phrase — but to see kids blooming.
One thing I can remember a coach telling me: There was a kid who was coming from the junior high program. The coach told me, “He’ll never play. He just doesn’t have it.” And that kid became an offensive lineman for us, did play, and contributed soundly and was a solid kid. And it has stuck in my mind all these years.
Did you have a guiding philosophy with players?
It probably boiled down to accepting each one of them as a unique individual, but also trying to help them to realize their role on the team, or in the community, so they could be successful and be a valued member of those groups. ... I don’t like to tell people what to do. ... That’s not a mission of mine. It’s to accept what’s there, but also to help them learn that there are some expectations that the world places on them, that a team places on them. ... That’s one of those life skills I think athletics teaches.
What’s the key to being an athletic director?
Making sure you’ve got officials for a game. Making sure that the bus will be here to pick kids up, and pick a team up to take them to an event. Those are kind of the nuts and bolts, the little things, which I’ve always believed in. ... I had this honed into me by a really well-respected football coach one time — you do the little things and the big things take care of themselves.
What do you like most about the job?
I really like people, and in this role, I’ve been able to see people doing their jobs, day in and day out, through thick and thin, with help and alone sometimes. And it really is ... a multi-layered organization, and when it’s clicking, it’s a thrill to be part of it.
What sticks out for you about the football season?
I guess two things: It was the joyful expectation, and then the joyful celebration. ... I mean that truly, even with the snowy, cold defeat down there at Hersheypark Stadium, and I know it didn’t seem like a celebration at that time, but it’s a part of that whole process. Some little vignettes throughout that — the football booster club banquet prior to the [state semifinal] Cumberland Valley game, and seeing the people who packed the Ramada [Inn conference room], and their enthusiasm, and that expectation of what’s going to happen. ... And the pep rally we had the Friday before the [state championship] LaSalle [College] game, the students and the team and the staff coming together, the kids buying tickets out here for a fan bus to go.
It’s the staff members, when I sent out an e-mail looking for some people to chaperone students to Hershey, and getting 15 people — bang — saying they’d love to do this. It’s all of that — and it’s easier with winning. After the Cumberland Valley game, that joyful celebration, you could see it: It’s out there; it’s visible; it’s hands up and it’s hoots and hollers. It takes a little longer with a setback, but I think it’s still there. ... For some, it happens a day later. For some, it might be two or three months later. But the realization comes that, “Wow, we were right there. That was us.” People use a ride to symbolize what has happened. It was a great ride.