BY ED HEDES

Jason Zimmerman always seemed to light a fire under every part of the Northwestern Lehigh athletic program since he took over as athletic director years back.

He has worked his way up to being a league officer in the Colonial League and then on to the District 11 committee of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

On July 1, Zimmerman takes over as the main man in the district after being elected as the district chairman to succeed Jack Wabby, who is retiring after 33 years on the committee and as PIAA treasurer.

Zimmerman was selected by an 11-7 vote at the district committee's spring meeting.

"It's an honor to be elected by your peers," Zimmerman said after receiving the nod. "There are a lot of special people on that committee and I'm sure Jack would echo that you're only as good as the people you have working with you. This couldn't be possible without the support of my family, my school (the Northwestern Lehigh School District) or the district 11 community as a whole.

"I hope I can continue to do the positive work that Jack did in his 33 years on the district committee."

Wabby graduated from Saint Clair High School in 1964. He served for 27 years as president of the Schuylkill League, 34 years on the Eastern Football Conference Steering Committee and during his tenure on the district committee,spent the last 19 years on the PIAA Board of Directors.

He taught in the Danville and Saint Clair School Districts before serving as an assistant principal at Williams Valley and then principal at Saint Clair and Blue Mountain before retiring in 2004.

"What I'm most proud of over my years of service with the Eastern Conference, PIAA and District 11 is when you're out on that field handing out medals and look in the kids eyes whether it b championship or runner up," said Wabby. "That gives you the greatest thrill, not only for the school itself, but that they're representing your district, especially on the championship stage."

Many things have changed over the years since Wabby began in athletics.

"When I started off coaching at Saint Clair, I was the football coach and started the girls softball program and they wanted a girls athletic director and I said fine," he said. "I think I was the first one in Schuylkill County. What I've gone on to see is the more participation of girls in athletics. We have some great female athletes and they represent our leagues and district all the way up through the state tournaments."

There are some challenges on the table not only for Zimmerman, but Bob Lombardi, who takes over for retiring PIAA Executive Director Brad Cashman.

"The biggest concern, and it's not really anyone's fault, is the economic situation the country is in right now," Wabby noted. "The school district and the state budget and how it affects interscholastic athletics. Naturally as a principal and an an educator, education without a doubt is primary. And I think being involved in athletics as an administrator, we have to fight to let the school boards know, the state politicians know, what value interscholastic athletics play in our society.

"It's something you can't learn in the classroom. Whether your team wins or loses, getting yourself back up again. It builds character and it's truly positive for our school districts, but for our state and nation."

Wabby admitted he didn't make District 11 what it is today alone.

"When I first got on our chairman was Bob Kearn from Easton," he said. "On the committee was Bob Ritz from West Hazleton, Mike Meilinger from Dieruff and Dick Culver from Bethlehem Catholic. These were quality people so I just sat back for a year or two and just saw what direction to take. They were honest, hard working and I can name everyone I worked with.

"Every school district is different, every league is different. Then there are 12 districts that make up the PIAA and we have to come up with one rule or consensus to fit them all. I scratch my head some times and say I don't see how we can do this. But when you deal with quality people on all levels, by the third reading I'm amazed that we come up with one thing that works for them all."

Wabby said what he is going to miss is the tight knit family that he has grown up with knowing each and every committee member's spouses and kids.

Now it's Zimmerman's turn to take over the reigns. And if he handles it like he has his duties at Northwestern Lehigh, District 11 will have no worries.