Peter Jerebko has grown accustomed to following big success stories.
A native of Depew, he played basketball in the shadow of his older brother, Chris, who attended Syracuse on an athletic scholarship in the late 1970s and went on to play professionally in Sweden.
Now, he again finds himself following an impressive predecessor, taking over the athletics director title at Erie Community College from the retired Ralph Galanti, who held that position for more than 30 years.
"I used to say this about my brother in basketball, that if I was half the player he was, I'd be pretty good," Jerebko said. "Right now, I feel like if I'm half the athletic director that Ralph Galanti was, I'll be successful. I think this is a job with tremendous opportunity and could be a place where I'd like to end my career."
Jerebko, who took over the AD job in October after six years in the same position at Medaille, is no stranger to the successes that can be achieved at ECC. He was well-tutored by John Beilein, one of the most famous coaching alumni turned out by the ECC program. Jerebko played for Beilein at LeMoyne College, worked with him as an assistant coach for two years and considers Beilein his mentor.
Jerebko understands the tradition already in place -- including national championships and recognition in bowling, baseball, hockey and men's basketball. He understands that football, since the day it began at ECC in 2000, serves as the school's flagship program.
But there's so much more to build on and 22 varsity sports at which ECC could excel. What the program needs to address is what Jerebko terms back-to-basics issues -- recruiting, coaching and facilities.
"As I approach this position, what I'm trying to do is really turn to the basics of college athletics," said Jerebko, who was successful at Medaille, guiding that school's transition to a full-time Division III program. "That means really going out and recruiting hometown student-athletes. To do that, you need to provide them with some really quality coaching. We've had some turnover in a lot of programs. It's tough to achieve success without consistency in coaching. If we can get those two things done -- energize the recruiting effort and maintain quality coaching -- I think we'll have a lot of success here at ECC."
Jerebko is pleased with the quality of athletes and the athletic department staff currently onboard. He wants to address outreach and communication, both within the staff and in the community, as ways to improve the recruiting of athletes.
That is perhaps the most important issue for Jerebko, who would particularly like to see an increase in the roster size of women's teams. The name of the recruiting game is the same at any collegiate level: Sell your package, from athletics to academics. At ECC, coaches need to demonstrate that it is a good fit for athletes who want to continue at a four-year school but need an extra year or two to improve academically and athletically.
But part of enticing recruits, and their parents, to choose ECC as their steppingstone school is to address basic facility issues. While the Flickinger Center downtown is an impressive facility for ECC's indoor sports, outdoor sports are spread between the north and south campuses. Jerebko would like all outdoor sports consolidated at the south campus in Orchard Park, where the football team plays along with track and field.
Ideally for athletics, residence halls would be built at the south campus, allowing for a more comfortable setting for athletes and their parents. Any decision on that needs to go through the sometimes painfully slow Erie County government process.
"We do have the challenges of having three campuses, 22 varsity sports and some part-time coaches," Jerebko said. "I know we've talked about consolidating outdoor sports programs to south campus with softball, baseball, soccer and lacrosse. . . . The difficulties that are ahead of us basically are looking at facilities. We need to do smarter decision-making as far as that is concerned."
The other piece of the recruiting puzzle lies in reaching out to ECC alumni to help create a sense of community among former and current players. One of the first events will be held Feb. 20 when the Kats host Jamestown in a basketball doubleheader. The school is inviting all former ECC athletes to a pregame reception at the Flickinger Center gym.