The Lehighton boys' and girls' basketball teams will each have a new leader come next winter.
With the hiring of a new athletic director comes two new faces on the sidelines of the Indians' hardwood. Rich Oertner and Ray Bressi have been named the head coaches of the boys' and girls' basketball programs respectively. Both were unanimously selected to be the new coaches earlier this week.
"A unanimous vote says a lot," said Oertner. "It shows that the school has a lot of confidence in me. It is very gratifying to see kids improve as they progress through a sport. That is what every coach wants. I am just happy to get a chance to see that happen once again."
Bressi was also very grateful of the 9-0 vote in his favor.
"It meant a lot to me," said Bressi. "I'm not really into school-board politics, but I talked to my principal and he explained to me how special that is. Having the support is really important to me. I'm sure some coaches have had it 5-4 in their favor, and then the next year it's 4-5. It felt good to know I had everyone's support. I am very excited for this opportunity."
Oertner will have his hands full as he takes over a boys' program that has won just two games over the last three seasons. However, if anybody can turn the program around, it's him.
He led Northern Lehigh to a 161-99 record in his ten years at the helm, including three Colonial League championships and one District 11 title in 2007-08. He also graduated from Northern Lehigh as a member of the 1,000-point club. Still, his first challenge as coach will have nothing to do with anything on the court. It will just be to get kids actually on the court.
"My first priority is to get kids out for the sport," Oertner said. "We need more kids out. Lehighton is a big enough school with a big enough enrollment that we should have more kids coming out for the sport. You can't do much unless you have a team.
"Secondly, we will have to get back to the fundamentals and move forward as quickly as we can. We will be having some workouts over the next few weeks. Hopefully we can improve over the summer and the fall and throughout the following season. I'm not sure if that is possible yet, but that is what we are striving for."
The Lady Indians recently had a rough season and have gone 30-61 over the last four years. That hasn't deterred Bressi, as he comes in with a bunch of coaching experience. Bressi was a men's assistant at Lycoming College (1995-2000), a women's assistant at Susquehanna University (2002-03), and even led the Nativity boys' basketball team to the District 11 A championship and the second round of states in 2001-02.
"I met with the girls earlier this week," said Bressi. "First I want to get to know the girls. I want to build a relationship with them and build their confidence. I want them to feel good about themselves.
"I need them to buy into the system, but I also need them to feel confident. The better someone feels about something, the more effort they will be willing to put into it. We will spend more time in the gym over the next few months and hopefully we can end the summer on a positive note."
Both coaches will also have to deal with competing in the Mountain Valley Conference. While Lehighton is in the AAA class, all of its competition in the conference operates at the AAAA level. Since its bid to join the Colonial League was recently denied, Lehighton will be forced to fend for itself once again.
"It's not equal at all, but what can you do," said Oertner. "Our goal is to be competitive. It is definitely a harder league than the Colonial League, but we will try to do as well as we can."
Bressi, on the other hand, offered a different take on the situation.
"I think it is great," Bressi said. "I am looking forward to it. That is no disrespect to the league or its coaches, but I think it will be great to go up against the AAAA competition. I think it will only make us better in the long run."