Mike Erickson is certainly deserving of the little bit of downtime that the summer provides.
Over the past few months, Erickson — who took over as Bradford’s Athletic Director on Oct. 1 — has been immersed in his role overseeing all of the school district’s athletic teams, building relationships with coaches and players, and moving his family to the area from DuBois.
But with school out for the summer, it’s given Erickson time to catch his breath and reflect on his first nine months at the helm in Bradford.
“Since I’ve been here everybody has been very welcoming,” he said in an interview at his office earlier this week. “It has that small town feel to it. Being the outsider coming into that small town is really nice actually. I haven’t had any negative comments or anything that sometimes goes along with it.”
Erickson came to Bradford with an impressive résumé, spending eight years in the athletics office at DuBois (four as full-time assistant, four as AD) before a three-month stint as the AD at DuBois Central Catholic.
When he got word that former Bradford Athletic Director Dave “Pug” Fuhrman was leaving his post at the end of last summer, it was a no-brainer for Erickson to apply for the position.
“I was very familiar with the school district and the previous athletic directors here and even the administration here,” he said. “I had that comfort that I knew enough people here that I wouldn’t be coming in completely blind.”
Erickson, who was a coach for 11 years in DuBois, has also served on the District 9 Committee.
“I jumped at the chance to take it knowing that I would still maintain all of the relationships I had built throughout the years and the transition would be easier than it would be starting somewhere completely fresh,” he added.
Erickson, who graduated from DuBois High School after spending the early part of his childhood in Altoona, said that after studying sports management at Robert Morris he knew exactly where he wanted his career to go.
“I did some work with the Pirates and the Penguins (in college), but really the passion for me was in amateur athletics,” he said.
That passion has led Erickson and his family, which includes children in fourth, seventh and ninth grades, to his newest office off Willard Avenue.
And not only has he enjoyed the early returns on his job, Erickson and his family have also been impressed with the community and what it has to offer.
“There is a lot that Bradford has that DuBois didn’t,” he said. “My family and I like to do a lot of camping, we like to ski in the wintertime, and we like the outdoors. Not that DuBois didn’t have it, but you look around Bradford and you can go in any direction and run into the campgrounds, the lakes.”
While Erickson acknowledged that he had to spend most of his first year as athletic director evaluating and assessing the athletic department, he has also been able to lay out some big goals in his new position, both inside and out of the athletic realm.
“I want the athletic department and all of our sports to be welcoming for everybody,” Erickson said. “We need to be inclusive, not exclusive. We want everybody that wants to be part of it to feel like they can join. It’s not that that hasn’t been here, but we need to be more inviting and welcoming to everybody.”
He also pointed out that the Bradford Area School District has been able to expand, and even add, programs to coincide with the needs of students in recent years. Groups like the justice club, an Esports team as well as three career and technical clubs are just a few that Erickson has been impressed by since he assumed the role.
“The kids are telling us what they want, we need to offer it to them,” he said.
One of Erickson’s objectives in the near-term is to bring more marquee events to Bradford. The Owls currently play host to the annual Big 30 Charities Classic football game each August at Parkway Field and host a handful of playoff games each sports season. But Erickson sees plenty of room for improvement — especially with Bradford boasting some of District 9’s most majestic facilities.
“We are at a bit of a disadvantage because of our location, but for all the northern schools this is an ideal location for the playoffs,” he explained. “The playoffs bring a little bit of notoriety to the school, it brings money into the community and it brings people into town. That’s what the community wants to get behind, or at least I’d hope so.”
Erickson said that the DuBois School District hosted between 40-50 playoff games a year by the end of his tenure there, and is hopeful Bradord can gradually grow its duties to even half those levels.
And for as much experience as Erickson has in amateur athletics, he said there are already a couple of positive things he’s seen in his short time in Bradford that he didn’t encounter in his two previous gigs.
He mentioned the “comradery between the coaches” and one specific example that stands out above the rest.
“Might have been the second or third week I was here. The middle school girls soccer team hadn’t played a game in weeks because of the rain,” he explained. “Tried to get them a game in on the turf at Parkway and I went to (Jeff Puglio, football coach) and he says, ‘No problem, I will end my practice a half hour early. Then I went to coach (Wes Lohrman, boys soccer) and told him the same thing and he said he would start his practice a half hour late.
“The coaches were willing to give up their time on the turf, the only dry piece of land in town. Showed the willingness of the coaches to work together for the betterment of the students. That was a great surprise.”
Erickson said that he has also been impressed with the relationships he’s built with others in the administration, and calls the school district a “family atmosphere.”
“Everybody knows that we are all putting in 60-70 hours a week, but everybody is pull the rope in the same direction,” he said. “It’s been nice to be a part of that, even in the short while I’ve been here.”