East Penn Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY CHUCK HIXSONEmmaus High School Athletic Director Dennis Ramella (right) and his son Ray (left), who is the AD at Nazareth High School, watch as medals are given during the recent district swim meet. PRESS PHOTO BY CHUCK HIXSONEmmaus High School Athletic Director Dennis Ramella (right) and his son Ray (left), who is the AD at Nazareth High School, watch as medals are given during the recent district swim meet.

Signing days bring Ramella joy

Thursday, March 22, 2018 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in Sports

For Dennis Ramella, his favorite day of the year isn’t when one of his teams is playing in a big game. In fact, his favorite day of the year doesn’t take place on a field, a court, a mat or in a pool.

It takes place in the school’s auditorium when student athletes sign their national letter of intent to attend a college where they’ll not only get a great education, but also be able to continue their athletic career as well.

“That’s my favorite part of this job, seeing the parents with the smiles and how proud they are and seeing the kids being recognized for their accomplishments in sports and academics,” said Ramella. “When I see those kids up on the stage, it makes me feel good because these student athletes did what they had to do and worked hard in the classroom.

“When you look at the kids and the schools they’re going to and all the financial aid they’re getting, it makes me smile. I look at it and say ‘we succeeded,’ our coaches, our school have succeeded.”

Ramella realized a few years back that kids going to Division 1 and Division 2 schools were getting recognition by signing their national letter of intent, but the ceremony didn’t include student athletes going to Division 3 schools. Prior to that, Ramella recognized that kids going into the service academies or into Ivy League schools where scholarships aren’t given, also weren’t being recognized, so he changed the parameters to include kids who were in those situations, so they would be recognized for their achievements as well.

In the near future, students choosing to attend junior colleges will also be recognized.

“Not every student athlete is going to go to Division 1 or Division 2 schools,” he said. “I believe that kids going to Division 3 schools where they’re not getting financial incentives for school, are the true student athletes because they play for nothing.

“That to me is where the real amazement comes in because they put in all that time and miss time with their friends and don’t see the financial help that kids going to the bigger schools get and those are exceptional student athletes and I really admire them.”

After students graduate from Emmaus, Ramella continues to watch their progress. He’s watched Kevin White play in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Aaron Gray play in the NBA for various teams.

He realized watching the college bowl games this winter that Emmaus had five football players playing in those games, making substantial contributions to their teams.

“I feel very fortunate to have known those student athletes and been around them as their athletic director and to watch them perform not only here, but at the next level or levels,” said Ramella.

Unfortunately, not every student athlete takes advantage of the opportunities that are in front of them. Some, for various reasons, struggle in the classroom and not only won’t get into schools that they may have dreamed of attending, but also can’t play their chosen sport.

As high as the letter of intent ceremonies get Ramella, telling a kid that they’re academically ineligible can drive him down harshly. Very close to that is when he has to tell a student who has done all the right things that they’re not going to be selected to play at a particular college.

“That hurts,” Ramella admitted in a sad tone. “When you have kids who are a really good athlete and the colleges come in and look at the transcript and say ‘we just can’t recruit them.’ That’s the one that tears me apart. When I have to bring a student in here and make them ineligible for discipline or for academics and I have to tell them they’re ineligible, it hurts.

“Sometimes, they say ‘is it for a week or for how long?’ I have to explain that it’s until however long it takes them to pull up their grades. Some students break down at the realization that they can’t play because they don’t perform in the classroom.

“That’s what this place is all about — getting an education. The kids come here for an education and to advance when they get out of high school and out of college. Very few go on to professional careers even though they think they can, but when that door closes, another one opens.

“I wanted to play in the NBA, but I’m 5-foot-7 and that wasn’t going to happen. Now, I have the greatest job at any school in the Lehigh Valley. I believe when God created me, he made me to be an athletic director.”

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a three-part series highlighting Dennis Ramella’s career as the EHS Athletic Director. He recently announced plans to retire at the end of the current school year.