BUCKHANNON – Dr. Rae Emrick was announced as the newest Athletic Director at West Virginia Wesleyan College in a press conference last week in Rockefeller Center.
Emrick replaces Randy Tenney, who retired from the position in January. Emrick was serving in a part-time leadership role within the athletic department following Tenney’s retirement before the college made the move to make her the official athletic director.
Emrick sat down recently with My Buckhannon owner/publisher Brian Bergstrom and sports editor Duane Carpenter for an exclusive interview discussing her appointment and the future of Wesleyan athletics.
“When Randy retired, president Dr. James Moore called me, asking if I would come back to help out,” Emrick said. “At that time this past winter, I was exploring some other options professionally, but we worked through some things, and I told him I would help out as much as I could.”
Emrick had worked at Wesleyan for decades but briefly left the college in July 2022. She returned in early 2023 in the new part-time role of Senior Associate Athletic Director, working alongside acting interim athletic director Jackie Hinton, who also serves the athletic department as the Director of Compliance and Academic Advising.
“We decided that it was best that Jackie become the official interim athletic director, because she was the staple holding everything together as a full-time employee,” Emrick said. “I agreed to come back on a part-time basis in an interim role that was created because Jackie was still fulfilling her full-time duties in compliance. I wound up being here more than probably what was originally anticipated.”
She said the brief time away from campus helped her refocus.
“I was still attached to the college teaching one fall online class and coming back for special events, but I think having time away from campus helped me get refreshed,” Emrick said. “I had some time to refresh and rejuvenate and work through some things on a personal and professional level. When I came back, I realized that I can still make an impact here. There was new energy with President Moore and in athletics. So, I thought I would apply for the job and see how it goes.”
The college conducted a national search for a full-time AD and ultimately landed on Emrick for the position with her 25 years of experience at Wesleyan as Associate Athletic Director/Senior Woman Administrator and her previous roles in the athletic training program, where she was the program’s director.
Emrick said being the athletic director wasn’t initially something on her radar during her two-plus decades of employment at Wesleyan.
“There were times when previous athletic directors Ken Tyler and Randy Tenney would ask me if I wanted to be athletic director,” commented Emrick. “I felt if there wasn’t a position that was open in that regard, why would I pursue it? I would usually tell them no, because I was too wrapped up in all the duties I already had, so I saw that as just another thing to pile on top. When I applied for the job, I didn’t have those responsibilities anymore, so I was able to look at the position just by itself at the end of the day.”
Emrick knows many challenges await her in her new role, from the ever-changing landscape of college athletics to the recruitment and retention of student-athletes in a post-COVID world.
“Higher education is challenging right now,” she said. “The high school graduation number is declining, and in general, the West Virginia population is declining. That said, sports in the United States and West Virginia are a big part of the culture. I think having the ability for our youth as they enter college to continue in athletics is a very important aspect of their college experience.”
She noted that athletics plays a big role in attracting students to colleges, as well.
“Institutionally, Wesleyan has used that to attract students for a number of years, but now you are starting to see other colleges use that same model, even at larger Division I schools,” Emrick said. “We are all fighting to attract a very small pool of students to our campuses. Everybody is fighting for that same student-athlete. I think our coaches have always done a great job of attracting student-athletes to our campus. Having solid academics and the opportunity to play at the Division II level helps, but you always have those issues of how do you maintain that. Over time, you have to continue to invest in the programs if you are going to offer them.”
Emrick has already started examining each athletic program, and planning how to best invest in each of them will be a priority.
“Today, to be sustainable in higher education, you have to evaluate every program you are offering and then truly evaluate the sustainability of that program,” Emrick said. “Even if it is a program that is being challenged with a small roster size, you still have to take a hard look at why that is. There could be a number of different factors of why it is happening and why an adequate roster isn’t being maintained. We have to make sure there is an adequate supply to sustain a program.”
Wesleyan has a long and proud history in athletics with national championships, conference titles and WVIAC and MEC Commissioner Cups, which recognize overall excellence in athletics. But the Bobcats have had trouble maintaining that excellence of late with reduced scholarships and funding. Wesleyan finished 11th out of 12 teams in the recent MEC Commissioner’s Cup standings.
Rebuilding Wesleyan’s prominence in the conference and the region is one of the challenges that awaits Emrick.
“I think the first thing we have to do is evaluate where are we at and why are we where we are,” noted Emrick. “Then decide where we want to be athletically as an institution. I have a vision of where I want Wesleyan to be based on the history I have seen. I have been here for over two decades, and during that time, a lot of our athletic success occurred. When I look at the framework of Wesleyan athletics, success is all I know. That is where we need to be again.”
She said the new administration is behind her.
“Where we need to be and getting there are two very different steps to take,” Emrick said. “I do feel that with President Moore and his staff, the college is committed to restoring success within the Wesleyan athletic department. It starts with being more competitive in the MEC and then on a regional level and beyond that. It takes time and patience, though, to accomplish those things. I feel we have a good momentum and a good energy moving forward. We just need to build on that.”
Emrick said she believes that Wesleyan, a founding member of the Mountain East Conference, has a strong relationship with the conference. She also feels the MEC remains stable despite seeing several teams leave in recent years and losing recent addition Alderson Broaddus to closure.
“I think Wesleyan has a very strong relationship with the Mountain East, their staff and other member schools,” Emrick said. “I know that commissioner Reid Amos works very hard to make the MEC a very strong conference, and I do think that the MEC is very stable despite some of the challenges they have faced.”
Emrick also said the college is going through an evaluation of the athletic facilities on campus.
“We will see from that evaluation where our deficiencies are and develop a priority list on how to improve things,” Emrick said.
President Moore spoke highly of Emrick at last week’s introductory press conference, saying, “I’m honored that Dr. Emrick has agreed to take this position at this time in Wesleyan’s history. We have a real opportunity here to redefine and reshape the student-athlete experience in the 21st century in NCAA Division II athletics. Dr. Emrick’s experience at Wesleyan, coupled with her passion for students and her extensive and rich experiences, make her an ideal choice for leadership.”