Story and photo by Jim Horvath
The Strongsville Athletic Department took on a new look early this summer when University Heights native Andy Jalwan took over as the high school's athletic director.
Jalwan comes to Strongsville after spending the past seven years as the athletic director at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. He was formally approved by the Strongsville Board of Education in late May and took over for the retired Paul Moses early in July.
Early this week, we had the opportunity to meet Jalwan for a one-on-one interview. During this interview, he shared some of his vision for the program as the 2015-16 season got underway.
Welcome to Strongsville! Tell us a little about yourself.
"I grew up in University Heights and went to University School. I earned my undergrad degree from Bowling Green State University in Sports Management, then I got my Masters Degree in Sports Administration at the University of Akron. My wife, Stephanie, my daughter Bridget and I currently reside in Stow.
"When I graduated from Bowling Green, I started out my career back at University School. I worked there for six years as the assistant athletic director while coaching football, basketball and baseball. I moved on to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron and spent seven years there as the athletic director.
How did you become interested in the opening here at Strongsville?
"Paul Moses, the previous athletic director, is a good friend of mine. We developed a professional relationship through some different professional development organizations that we both belonged to.
"When the opportunity here became available, Paul encouraged me to apply. I got to meet the principal, Mark Smithberger, who has also been an athletic director at one time in his career. I knew him from that. Those were the first two things that attracted me to the job.
"Then when I got to Strongsville and began meeting a lot of the people in the community, especially the coaching staff and more of the administrators, they really made me feel like it would be a good fit for me. So far, it's been a great fit."
What are some of the other things about Strongsville that made this an attractive job?
"I'll start with the administration and the new superintendent, Cameron Ryba, along with Smithberger. They have a track record of being great administrators. Knowing their reputations, I knew I would be coming to a school district with stability at the top.
"The opportunity to work with a football coach like Larry Laird was very attractive. And certainly, as I've gotten to meet the other coaches here at Strongsville and gotten to know them, we have great people in leadership positions.
"And certainly, as I've been reaching out and meeting more community members and understanding the civic pride in the city of Strongsville, that makes this a very attractive landing spot for me at this time in my career."
You've been on the job for a little over a month. What have you tried to accomplish in that short period of time?
"The first thing was to get in front of all my coaches and meet them face-to-face. I wanted to understand what their needs are and what they expect from our relationship. As the athletic director, while maybe on the organization chart I'm technically their boss, I really view myself more as an assistant coach on their staffs.
"I really want to be able to take all the administrative hurdles out of their way so they can focus on coaching. What I've tried to stress to them during my first month is my philosophy of trying to give the students here at Strongsville the best experience possible. And nobody's going to have more of an affect on the students' experience than our coaches.
"I really want them to feel like they're going to be supported, and that the things they need they're going to be able to get so they can continue to do the good work they're doing."
What have been your first impressions of Strongsville as a school district and a community?
"The civic pride has really shown through in every meeting I've had so far.
"I've never been a west sider, but as I've been out in the community more I've been understanding that people here have the mentality of 'we're a team.' Teamwork is certainly important in sports, but to have that community backing is something special we can build on.
"We can certainly use that as momentum in our programs. When you're proud of where you live and you're proud of who you play for, those are two really strong factors in accomplishing success."
What are some of Strongsville's strengths you feel you can work with?
"We have good coaches in place, and that takes a lot of worry off your plate.
"You can focus on what needs to done behind the scenes and not worry about the coaching. That doesn't mean I'm not here to support them and evaluate them to make sure they're constantly getting better.
"We operate with the philosophy that even your most accomplished coach has at least one thing they can improve on. When you think you've learned it all, it's probably time to move on. We have great examples here of veteran coaches who are always striving to get better. They're great mentors for our younger coaches who can develop and continue that tradition of great coaching.
"The facilities, while there are some improvements we'd like to see made, are great. We have a lot of opportunity for participation and we'd like to see that grow as well. With the support of the community and the administrators, I feel we can get these things done."
What are your top three goals as the new athletic director?
"My first goal is to understand and improve the student experience.
"That's not to say any student coming through our program is having a bad experience. But the reason any of us, teaches, coaches and administrators, are in this profession is to positively impact the students. That's really a strong philosophy of mine.
"We need to understand that experience and how we can improve it. It might be great, but let's make it even better. And for that student that might be having an average experience, let's make sure he or she is having a great experience.
"And for the student who's having a poor experience, let's really understand where we're falling short and make those improvements.
"My second goal is to really empower my coaches. We ask them to do a lot, and in return we don't pay them a lot. So I want them to feel like they have ownership, that their investment of time and program is more valued than a typical coach.
"I'm looking to start a coaches advisory council so that when decisions are made within the athletic program, our coaches have input on that. I'd love to see some things develop out of the advisory council, like working on our brand, our logo and school colors.
"We want to make sure when a Strongsville team or athlete is out representing our community, it's clearly obvious who they are representing.
"Our third goal is some facility improvement. Being in Northeast Ohio, I think we're lacking in not having a synthetic turf field in our football stadium. That's a big goal of ours. I'd like to see some improvements to our weight room, as well as some other improvements.
"I don't want us to ever be content with where we are. I always want us to strive to get better."
What are some of the weak points that need your attention right away?
"I would say the improvements to the stadium. I think we have a beautiful stadium, and we certainly appreciate all the energy and dollars that have been committed to make it the facility it is today. I really believe as a first-class community and a first-class program, I would have liked to have gotten that done yesterday.
"It's not easy, but I think we have the wherewithal and the passion in our community that if we put together a good plan, we can get it done pretty quickly. I've mentioned installing turf. I'd like to see some upgrades to our press box and certainly the visitors side.
"I want our visitors, our guests, when they come here to feel comfortable. I want them to feel like this is a place they like to come to and feel like it's a first-class atmosphere. I always want to be putting our best foot forward.
"Other than that, I wish I could have my coaches advisory council up and running. I want them to understand that their opinions and expertise are important. I'm not coming in here with an iron clad fist saying this is how we're going to do things. I want them to let me know what's working and what's not working, then come up with a plan together to keep the good things going and fix the things that need improvement."
What are some ideas you'd like to see implemented here that worked for you at St. Vincent-St. Mary?
"I think I bring a strong emphasis on certain things, like social media.
"We don't have a strong social media presence here in our athletic department. I was an early adopter of Twitter, and we opened up our first athletic department Twitter account in 2009. That's six years ago, and we built it up to over 5,000 followers.
"It can be a great tool for us, and I think the community would really enjoy it. They would have access to timely information.
"I would also love to see a branding initiative. I'd love to see us tighten up our logos, our fonts and our colors. I want to bring a strong marketing background to our athletic programs. I'm hoping something like our coaches advisory council would embrace that and want to put in some work, because that's a process.
"We added lacrosse last year, which is the right direction to go since the OHSAA is adopting it as a sanctioned sport next year. And I'd love to see a bowling program. That's definitely an initiative of mine. Bowling has been very successful in Summit County, and in a high school with over 2,000 students I'm sure I could find 12 of them interested in bowling.
"It's a great way for a non-traditional athlete to be involved in varsity athletics. It's creating participation and it's improving that experience for our students."
What would be your overall message to the Strongsville community?
"The Mustang Athletic Program is going to represent Strongsville with the foundation of our program, which would be integrity, responsibility, dedication, hard work and commitment. If we are lacking in those areas, we're falling short.
"I don't ever want the community to feel like our coaches, our student athletes and administrators aren't doing everything possible to give students that positive experience that also translates into making this community proud.
"The civic pride in this community, their willingness to support us, their investment of time, energy and dollars, that's our way of showing a return on that investment. If we are falling short in those areas, I want to be accessible. I want to know where the Strongsville community feels we can be doing a better job.
"They are an important stakeholder. They are one of our most important stakeholders in our athletic program. When it comes to the student athletes, who are our most important stakeholders, their parents, our coaches, the faculty and staff, our boosters and our community, they're all important stakeholders in making sure this is the program we all want it to be."
You can follow Andy Jalwan and Strongsville Athlethics on Twitter @scsmustangs. Follow us too @BeAFanatic, and don't forget to check out and like our Facebook page: BeAFanatic.com.