Chapelgate Christian Academy's athletic program has come a long way since Jason Bennett took the athletic director position 19 years ago.
During his tenure he made sure to add home fields on campus, and as recent as four years ago, hired the school's first athletic trainer, Dana Emrich. And now, Bennett, along with newly named assistant athletic director Emrich, will help bolster the program further by helping guide the first middle school athletic program for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year.
"We've been talking about it for a while. What can we do to build the program even further," said Emrich, who will also continue her role as the Yellowjackets athletic trainer.
"It has been fun to watch the program grow," Bennett added. "It's always kind of been on the back burner as an idea… As the school looks into the future and realizing the importance and value of the middle school kids, not that they didn't before, but just recognizing it and wanting to try and maintain these kids and give them more opportunities at Chapelgate middle school, athletics just seemed right."
Bennett and Emrich put out a survey on which sports the student body would be most interested in, and for this upcoming fall season Chapelgate will include co-ed cross country and soccer, and volleyball for grades sixth through eighth.
The hope is to not only get more students participating, but also develop a feeder system, which in turn, will bolster the varsity program for years to come.
"At the middle school level they are gaining more of the skills, understanding how to play on a team and be a part of something that is bigger than just them," Bennett said. "What we'd like to see is the under squad teams and those coaches kind of follow the same philosophy as the varsity coach, because it is their program that they're building."
Although she held just a part-time position, Emrich helped Bennett with different roles throughout her tenure at the school. Her promotion to assistant athletic director was a big factor in pushing the decision to implement the middle school athletics program for this upcoming school year.
"She has the right mindset and understanding of how it works, what the atmosphere is like and that has been very helpful. This wouldn't work if that piece of the puzzle wasn't there," Bennett said. "That will be a part of her charge will be to help run the middle school program and get that going, which will hopefully help the school with numbers and [help] JV and varsity programs thrive because now we have a feeder system."
Although her workload has doubled, Emrich is excited for the opportunity to help build the middle school program and take on more of an administrative role, while also keeping her position as the athletic trainer during games.
"I liked the idea of assisting the athletic director as well as the athletic trainer," Emrich said. "I liked the responsibilities that come with that part too. Being an athletic trainer there is a lot of down time. There is a lot of doing so much all at one time now and then there's a lot of not doing. So in the not doing time, I like the administrative duties."
The benefits of the middle school program can not only help the athletics program as a whole, but also potentially increase enrollment down the road by offering more opportunities at the middle school level.
"You have people coming to open houses and looking at Chapelgate and one of their constant questions is always, 'How is your middle school athletics program? And the answer is, 'Well right now we don't have anything.' That is an immediate turn off for a lot of families and I think the board [saw] that too," Bennett said. "Chapelgate offers a lot of nice other things for the middle school kids from robotics to academics… There are really neat things for the middle school kids, but athletics was just not one of them so hopefully this will help the program be a little bit more well rounded."
With the fall season set to begin around mid-September, Bennett and Emrich will evaluate which sports will be added in the winter. As of now the idea is to include boys basketball, a developmental indoor track and field team and possibly, if there is enough interest, girls basketball and cheerleading.
"We're approved to do whatever we need to do. That is why we put the survey out, is to find out from the kids and the parents what their interests are and what they would support," Bennett said. "In the fall what we'll probably do is have a couple meetings with the middle school kids and just figure out how many kids are coming in for baseball, how many coming for softball, lacrosse, golf whatever, and then we'll just go from there."
Games and practices will be split between fields on Chapelgate's campus and two additional fields at Cedar Lane Park.
But as Bennett and Emrich put everything together in the short time they have before the fall season kicks off, they said they are looking forward to the future of the program.