UNIVERSITY PARK - Bob Lombardi was voted the PIAA executive director on Saturday, officially bringing Brad Cashman's 32 years of service with the commonwealth's scholastic sports governing body - nearly the last two decades of which as its head - to an end with the completion of this springs sports championships.
The Mirror's Philip Cmor caught up with Cashman on Friday during the first day of the PIAA basketball finals at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center to have him reflect on his time and to look ahead at his organization's future.
Q: Now that your successor's been hired, has it sunk it yet that you are retiring? Are you ready for it?
A: I've been ready. It's just a matter of making the announcement official. Since I decided the retire last July, it's probably the worst kept secret in Pennsylvania. I've been a little apprehensive. I thought, 'This is a good time to announce it, but I'm not sure where I'm going to take it down the road. As I get closer, the more I'm looking forward to it. I'm checking off the championships. This is the last of the winter championships, and then we have the spring championships. We have [today's] board meeting, and we have one more in May. For me, those are my biggest objects.
Q: Of what accomplishments are you most proud of your time as executive director, and is there anything else you hope to get through in your last few months?
A: There are a number of things I'm proud of. I think I'm most proud of bringing the Philadelphia public schools in in 1995 and two years later bringing in the Philadelphia Catholic League. I'm most proud of that because now we can say we've programmed for, planned for and arranged for a true state championship. In the past, we just had to say we had PIAA championships, because we didn't have the Philadelphia public shools or private schools. That's what I hope would be one of my legacies. We also expanded the football playoffs from a point system to having all district champions qualify. Unfortunately, the expanded football season, though, is a little bit longer than I'd like to see. That [shortening it] was one of the things I'd hoped to accomplish before I left. We just couldn't get that done. Maybe Bob will be able to get that done in the next couple of years.
Q: What do you think is the PIAA's biggest challenge going forward?
A: Making sure that we are financially stable. We've gone from years where we were pretty good financially to years like last year where we just broke even. We've tried to cut expenses where we can. I think we've done a pretty good job of that the last five or six years because of the economy.
Q: The crowds aren't what they used to be, are they?
A: No. That's a [reflection] of the teams, their fan support base and the weather. Now, the weather hasn't been a factor this year. We've had an unbelievable March. If we finish up in the spring like we had this winter, as far as the championships are concerned, we should finish up with a pretty good year. When you get down to it, people probably judge the PIAA more on the championships and the awards we give out. I think that's our best PR, our best report card.
Q: You've brought basketball to Penn State, baseball and softball to Penn State. What's the status for the basketball championship site for next year?
A: That has to go up for bid again. We've been here for six years. We're going to put it up for bid for four years.
Q: How do you feel about staying at the Bryce Jordan Center?
A: I think the odds are pretty good. We certainly are in favor of this venue, not taking anything away from the Giant Center in Hershey. They have the auxiliary gym. It's certainly a great location as far as the center of the state's concerned. There are more that enough hotels in the area, which was a problem years ago.
Q: You mentioned bringing the Philadelphia Catholic League in. That's probably not a good thing to a lot of people out there. Can the public/private debate ever be settled in a way that everyone can be happy with?
A: That's doubtful. That's very doubtful. I know what the public school people want. I know what the private school people and the charter school people do not want. Yes, they are public charter schools, but in effect are special mixed schools that can draw from a wide area as a private school. Philadelphia charter schools can only draw from Philadelphia County.
Q: What about a school like Lincoln Park?
A: I think they draw from 16 different schools. For a school like that, you could really say they are a non-boundary school. If a kid can get to their school, they could come from Erie.
Q: A lot of smaller schools feel threatened by them.
Q: It would seem a charter school could very easily pop up and become a sports factory. Can anything be done to police that?
A: That's a good question. I'm not sure there's an answer to that question. I can tell you that, right now, we haven't found it. Because of the way the charter school law has been crafted, it works two ways. It works in favor of the cyber-charter or charter school student. If you are a cyber-charter school student, you are basically being schooled at home. Because of the charter school law, you can go to the public school in which you reside for any of their activities. We had to amend our bylaws to address that. The kids at a regular charter school are afforded the same privileges. They can go back to their home school district to play football if the charter school doesn't offer football or to play in the band if the school doesn't offer band. But they still attend that charter school and whatever sports they offer, they play there.
Q: What are you going to do with all of your free time?
A: My wife and I just purchased a one-bedroom condominium in Williamsburg, Va. That's where I graduated to college, at the College of William & Mary. We're going to go back. It's a little better apartment than when I graduated 43 years ago. We're still going to keep our place outside of Coraopolis. Our next youngest son, his wife and our 9-week old grandson are in Virginia Beach, Va., so we're looking forward to spending a lot more time with our new grandson, as well as our son and our daughter.
Q: The PIAA's gone through a lot of ups and downs these last 32 years. Was it all worth it?
A: Oh, yes. I think I had a passion for high school athletics, and I think I've satisfied that for the most part. I think we made everything better, for the most part, over the last 19 years [that I've been executive director].''