BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Paraphrasing the late great Yogi Berra here: ‘Ninety-nine percent of the sports enthusiasts in Lebanon County don’t know what the staff of the MAC does, and the other half doesn’t know where it’s office is located.’
What the staff of the Middle Atlantic Conference does is very support-oriented in nature. Their work is done behind the scenes, and often flies under the radar. It is never in-your-face, always understated. But without them, thousands of collegiate student-athletes from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Maryland to New York couldn’t do what they do.
Yet, just as mysterious is where the staff performs its essential duties. In a secluded back office, quite out of the way of everything, the headquarters of the Middle Atlantic Conference is located at 350 West Main Street, rear, in Annville, a mere stone’s throw from one of the institutions it supports athletically, Lebanon Valley College.
“Most of what we do goes on behind the scenes,” said Ken Andrews, the Executive Director of the Middle Atlantic Conference. “One of the things people don’t understand is we’re the biggest conference in (NCAA) Division Three, and the one that has the most going on. Just the number of schools and the number of sports, and that gets compounded by the number of coaches and the number of presidents. We run 37 championships. There’s actually three conferences (MAC, Commonwealth and Freedom) in one
“Our main thing is: we want to be one of the preeminent conferences in Division Three,” continued Andrews. “There are conferences that have different athletic advantages and there are other conferences that have different academic advantages. We try to work within those extremes. But we do more to run championships, more than any other conference.”
The Middle Atlantic Conference has actually been headquartered in Annville for the past 23 years. Andrews’ predecessor Linda Hopple, a resident of Hummelstown, moved the MAC offices into the shadows of LVC, from its former location near Widener University, in 1993.
“There’s been two commissioners associated with Lebanon Valley,” said Andrews, who’s been in his current position for 17 years. “When my predecessor got the job, she lived in Hummelstown, and she requested the office to be moved here. It’s generally located in a central place, and look at the roads around us – the turnpike, 81, 80, 78.
“I would argue it’s in a good place,” added Andrews. “If I left tomorrow, it might be harder to attract another commissioner. When I leave the conference, they might consider another host college.”
As an operation, the Middle Atlantic Conference office is just as quaint and unassuming as the surroundings in which it is nestled. Andrews is supported by a two-and-a-half person staff, in three adjoining and humble offices.
Jon Hower, Director of Media Relations, handles awards. Associate Executive Director Marie Stroman is in charge of special projects and championships. And Trent Brown does the work of the administrative assistant director.
“Without the college, there wouldn’t be a lot going on here,” said Andrews. “I think it’s a pretty good relationship. With us, a lot of the operations are mobile. The three of us could work at home. But that wouldn’t be the ideal situation for me. I want to be associated with a college. I want to have a central spot where we can get together.
“I did buy a house in Harrisburg,” Andrews added. “I didn’t want to live in Annville. We (he and his family) wanted to live in a more urban place. The college has been great. That’s very positive. But I wanted to live in a more urban setting.”
The Middle Atlantic Conference supports Lebanon Valley and 16 other colleges or universities in 24 sports, and conducts 37 championships annually. The circuit, which was founded in 1912, is one of the oldest intercollegiate athletic associations in the country.
Some 6,700 student-athletes compete in MAC-sanctioned events, on a yearly basis.
“For our colleges, it’s very important because they’re tuition-driven schools,” said Andrews, when asked about the importance of athletics in the overall college education. “It’s a key piece of what we do. During the recession, we had schools adding sports instead of dropping them. It’s a big deal. That’s (learning life lessons, the importance of team work and camaraderie) pretty much a given for a lot of people.
“The thing that has changed the most for us is social media,” Andrews added. “Lebanon Valley is, by far, our best college as far as social media goes. On Wednesdays, I can sit at home and watch every game (through the colleges’ websites). The whole landscape has changed a whole lot.”
Since its inception more than a century ago, the Middle Atlantic Conference has been home to some 59 institutions – past and present – and its member schools have won 39 NCAA team championships.
“I think our members are healthy,” said Andrews. “Their enrollment is good. But our schools are always walking a fine line. The need for expansion depends on who you’re talking to. There’s very little enthusiasm by coaches and athletic directors to expand. Our last expansion was 2011 when Stevenson and Hood joined.
“Our biggest challenge, because of our history and size, is that we don’t have a good (documented) history,” Andrews continued. “For us, it would be nice to have a definitive record book, and archive of what has happened.”
The Middle Atlantic Conference is one of 43 NCAA Division Three sanctioning bodies in the United States.
“It’s really tough to explain what we do,” said Andrews. We oversee the conference actions for 17 schools in 24 sports. I take care of everything that deals with money. Jon is in charge of awards. And Marie works on special projects.”
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What follows is the Middle Atlantic Conference’s mission statement: We are the MAC, a voluntary association of independent, non-profit colleges and universities, diverse in missions and academic programs, but with a shared vision rooted in the values of the NCAA Division III and with special emphasis on promoting gender equity and racial diversity. We are committed to excellence in undergraduate education, to education of the whole person, to high standards of athletic competition and good sportsmanship, and to support of student athletes so they may reach their full potential and be prepared for professional success and service to their communities. Our presidents take seriously their responsibility to lead our conference, working closely with faculty, direct reports, student representatives, and athletic administrators.