East Penn Press

Tuesday, March 19, 2019
PRESS FILE PHOTOAfter 19 years at Emmaus and 32 years as an athletic director in the Lehigh Valley, Dennis Ramella will step down at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Copyright - DonHerb                                               PRESS FILE PHOTOAfter 19 years at Emmaus and 32 years as an athletic director in the Lehigh Valley, Dennis Ramella will step down at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Copyright - DonHerb

Ramella helped form two leagues

Thursday, March 29, 2018 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in Sports

Dennis Ramella has filled his office with memorabilia of his life and career. His penchant for Syracuse University is evident in the framed team jersey and photos from Syracuse sports.

A line of NFL helmets, including an Eagles helmet autographed by Bill Bergey, lines the top shelf of a book case. His prized possession is a football autographed by 1951 Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier.

There’s a story behind just about every picture, jersey or other collectible in his office. It’s a second-home to Ramella and he’s made it comfortable for himself.

In his 32 years as a high school athletic director, Ramella has been a part of some big changes and involved with issues which have plagued high school sports for years and likely will for years to come.

In 1997, the 10-team East Penn Conference saw its membership cut in half when the Mountain Valley Conference extended invitations to five schools who left for what they thought was a better situation in the expanding MVC. It left the EPC with just five teams – the alphabet league as some called it, because of the first letter of the remaining schools – Allen, Bethlehem Catholic, Central Catholic, Dieruff and Emmaus. Ramella recalls how difficult it was to fill out a schedule for teams, but also recalls those days fondly.

“There was a lot of discord and distrust in the conference, but it upset me that a number of schools decided they had a better opportunity in another league and they left leaving five schools,” said Ramella. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was fun though. You could tailor your schedule to the caliber of your team. If you had a team that needed to build, you could tailor it with a schedule that fit where they were and if you had a really high-powered team, you could tailor it and you weren’t encumbered by conference schedules.”

Eventually, some schools decided that the grass wasn’t greener up north and returned to help form the new Lehigh Valley Conference for the 2002-2003 school year.

But again, cracks and divisions started to plague the LVC and the conference again looked north to the Mountain Valley Conference. Ramella was one of the proponents of a new merged league that he saw having a lot of advantages. Unfortunately, three years into the merger, many of those advantages have been outweighed by disadvantages including weather, travel and costs. In a day where budgets are being cut, the layout of the current conference has increased travel costs dramatically.

“A lot of the problems that I experienced in the old East Penn Conference and a lot of the problems that were creeping up in the Lehigh Valley Conference, which gave the idea for the new league, haven’t been solved,” said Ramella. “I see the same problems, just with different people bringing them up. We’re going down the same path and the same thing is going to happen.”

The problems? One is that nasty ‘R’ word: recruiting. Private schools are accused of recruiting athletes from other districts because they can admit students from anywhere. Ramella has been an AD at both a Catholic school and a public school and offers a unique perspective.

“I’ve been on both sides and let me say that Catholic schools are not the only schools that recruit,” he said. “They are also not the only schools that have athletes playing that are not in their school district.

“Emmaus is not lily-white. We’ve had some questionable transfers and enrollments, but here’s the difference between public school and Catholic school: in order to attend a public school, that student has to be accepted by the Guidance Department, not the Athletic Department, and they require a proof of residence. I believe that in a lot of public schools there are mistakes made and parents do know how to beat the system. If the parents are showing proof of residence, then there is very little to do to deny them. In a Catholic school you don’t have that, because there are no boundaries.”

Ramella will vacate that office at the end of the school year and one gets the feeling that packing everything up won’t be easy. Some of it will go home with him, some will stay and some will go to his son Ray, the athletic director at Nazareth High School.

Most likely, the next person in that office will face many of the same issues and will have their own likes and dislikes about the job, but odds are they won’t last through 32 years as Ramella has done. The next person will still have Ramella as a sounding board, because he plans on sticking around to run scoreboards, take tickets and maybe do some public-address announcing.

“I still have a passion for high school athletics,” said Ramella. “Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean I’m going to disappear. The big difference now is that when something goes wrong or someone has a problem, I can say ‘that’s not my job.’”

Editor’s Note: This article is the third in a three-part series about Ramella’s career as Emmaus High School Athletic Director.