It’s hard to think that a midyear switch at an important position like high school athletic director could be executed without a hitch, but if such a situation could be pulled off Pennsville might be the place.
Jamy Thomas, who began his 12th year as the Eagles AD in September on an interim basis, will depart Nov. 15 for his new position as Pennsville district supervisor of Math and Science. Officially taking over Nov. 16 will be Adam Slusher, who’s taught history at Pennsville for more than a decade and spent the last five seasons as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Penns Grove.
“We had somebody leave over the summer and take another position, so I didn’t even apply until July and the interview was early August,” said Thomas. “They wanted me to be approved as (district supervisor) immediately and gave me the interim (AD) tag until Adam could take over.”
“These opportunities don’t come along very often, especially in Tri-County,” Slusher said. “There hasn’t been huge turnover when it comes to athletic directors, everyone loves their job. It’s an exciting opportunity to work with kids every day, and I’ve been looking for opportunities like this. I just never thought it would happen where I was at.
“It’s kind of crazy how things worked out like this. I’m just humbled I have the opportunity, there were strong candidates. I’m excited just thinking about it. It’s been a long, winding road to get back to Pennsville.”
Thomas was in his late 20s when he took over the Eagles athletic programs from the retiring Liz Pappas in 2005, and had settled in as one of the more respected ADs in Tri-County and South Jersey.
But an unusual situation a couple of years ago in the school brought him back to his educational roots, and made him realize that he might be looking for a change of scene.
“It’s surprising,” Thomas admitted. “I did teach one year a couple of years ago, we had a physics teacher go overseas for a military job teaching. It happened late in August, and they couldn’t find anybody with a physics cert, and I had one. I went to them and said if we can make this work, and I taught one class at the end of the day.
“It was a little crazy, but I had some assistants with me. That was probably two, three years ago and that experience probably reinvigorated that passion in science and math. After 12 years it was time to look for another challenge.”
That opened the door for Slusher, who has his Master’s degree in education from Wilmington University and is working on his doctorate, was beginning to keep an eye out for opportunities to make the move into administration. He just never expected it to be at the school he’d already been at for so long as a teacher.
And the good news for him is that Thomas has been helping ease the transition already and plans to stay on advising him through the end of the fall season -- though if Slusher needs any help after that Thomas will only be in the adminstrative building behind the softball field.
“To have somebody like him in my corner is huge, it takes a weight off my shoulders,” said Slusher. “He’s seen a lot of scenarios that come along in this position, he’s a great resource. And he’s not going to completely abandon me, he’s got too much pride in the program.”
“You’ll still see me on the sideline,” said Thomas. “I live in town, I’m a Pennsville grad and bleed blue and gold. I won’t be leaving that aspect of things. He’s got a great relationship with our staff, with the kids in the building. Those two things are important as you come in. I think he’s gonna do really well in that position.”
Slusher is right that Thomas saw a lot during his tenure as AD for Pennsville, and it’s expecting the unexpected that is among the best advice he can provide to his successor.
“It was definitely what I expected, there are things that pop up unexpectedly,” said Thomas. “The passing of one of our coaches (track throwing coach Bruce Maas) in the middle of the season, we had to pick things up and move forward from that. We’ve had some of those, the Kyle Pszenny situation.
“Sports aside, life comes into it and you have to deal with it. I hope I did the right things for people in those situations, tried to have the kids and families first in mind.”
He must have done something right as the Eagles won nine state championships under Thomas. Four of those came in baseball, but they also claimed titles in cross country, softball and a pair in girls tennis, as well as the South Jersey Group 1 football title last winter. Baylor University sophomore Megan Saxvanderweyden also became the school’s first-ever Meet of Champions winner in javelin.
Slusher is excited for the challenge and knows that the work behind the scenes can make a big difference from his own coaching experience, and Thomas believes the legacy of any good athletic director goes far beyond the surface of trophies and victories.
“I’ll be honest, wins and losses I don’t think are the most important thing in an education-based sports program at the high school level,” he said. “We’ve had some awesome coaches, all the credit goes to them and the athletes who’ve worked their tails off. I’m the one scheduling and doing the behind-the-scenes work, they’re the ones keeping the tradition alive.”
“I think at Pennsville it’s expected to win, as it should be at most places,” said Slusher. “A lot of it has to do with the culture started at the top. Jamy wouldn’t take credit for it, and he’s not going to put pressure on me. A lot of it is the coaches, the kids. I don’t know if we’ll get nine championships, but I’ll work hard to do everything I can to give us that chance.
“Coming from a coaching background, luckily I’ve been around a lot of great ADs from Joe DiPatri to Chris Castner to Jamy, they’ve done a lot. Hopefully through osmosis I’ve picked up some of that. I feel like between coaching experience, classroom experience, my master’s work, that I’m more than prepared for it. A lot of great people have helped me get where I’m at.”
Scott Chappelear writes for South Jersey Sports Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @srchappie.