Intercollegiate atheltics' new assistant director is a well-known figure around campus.
As a young athlete, Ernie McClatchie ’01, M.S. ’03, had big dreams. But perhaps not exactly what you would expect: Instead of sinking a three-point shot to win the NBA championship or serving aces at Wimbledon, he dreamed of recruiting football players and running the clock at basketball games.
Ithaca College’s new assistant director of athletics grew up as a sports-minded kid in Plattsburgh, New York. At Beekmantown High School, he played sports year-round: football in the fall, basketball in the winter, tennis in the spring. One fateful football injury—badly broken ribs—was serious enough to keep him off the basketball court for that season, so he started working in his school’s athletics office. His own career as an athlete soon became an afterthought.
“I enjoyed the atmosphere in athletics,” he remembers. “The next year, I decided I’d enjoyed it so much [that] I didn’t go back out for basketball.” McClatchie was able to experience sports on a broader level from the other side. “I think anyone who is in athletic administration will tell you that they feel like part of the team,” he says.
McClatchie looked at Ithaca College because of the reputation of its sports management program. When he visited campus, he knew right away it would be a place to call home. Having already decided against playing sports while attending college, McClatchie quickly became involved with the football team in another capacity. Starting out as the junior varsity equipment manager, McClatchie eventually became the varsity squad’s student director of football operations. During the season he set up and tore down practices and set up the stadium on game days. He was in charge of issuing equipment and making travel arrangements. In the off-season he assisted with recruiting.
McClatchie calls his work with the football team—what some might call a thankless job—the “fun part” of his College experience. Head football coach Mike Welch ’73 says McClatchie was one of the best managers the football team has ever had.
“He’s so reliable, has so much energy,” Welch says. “He’s one of those proactive people [who] can see when things need to be done. He just made our job tremendously easy.”
Adds sports information director Michael Warwick, “Ernie is probably the most universally beloved person in the athletic department, and has been since he was a freshman.”
McClatchie graduated summa cum laude and continued working for the football team as he pursued his master’s degree in exercise and sport science at the College. He also landed an assistantship with the intercollegiate athletics department. All this experience continued to affirm his desire to work in collegiate athletics, particularly at his double alma mater.
But fate wouldn’t let McClatchie have his dream job without throwing in a little adversity. With all jobs in the athletics department filled and no other options in the Ithaca area, McClatchie took a job in the College’s physical plant; he was assigned to take care of grounds and athletic fields. “Friends of mine [said], you’ve got an undergrad and a master’s [degree] and now you’re taking care of fields?” he says. “But I was here and still able to do what I liked,” he says. He kept a positive attitude because he enjoyed his coworkers in physical plant and he was still involved in athletics in a way. “Sooner or later,” he says, “some job would open up, and then that would be my opportunity.”
After two years in the maintenance job, McClatchie finally got his shot this past fall when assistant director of athletics Deb Steward was named director of athletics at William Smith College. Her former boss, IC director of athletics Ken Kutler, says that McClatchie was the division’s number one choice to replace her because of his continued dedication and demonstrated commitment to Ithaca College athletics.
“Even when he wasn’t working in athletics, he would volunteer,” says Kutler, “to help with football or to help run an athletic event. So he always kind of had his hand in athletics, even though he wasn’t officially connected to the program. That passion came through, because, you know, he wasn’t being paid to do that.”
Now that he is getting paid, McClatchie’s duties include overseeing the budget for the entire department, scheduling both indoor and outdoor facilities, coordinating facilities maintenance, and supervising six sports teams—softball, wrestling, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s and women’s crew—whose coaches report directly to him.
And the feeling around the athletics division is that they’re fortunate to have such a hard-working and passionate AD.
“He’s such a balanced guy,” says Coach Welch. “He’s got a sincere interest in all sports, all athletes, coaches, and Ithaca College. He’s just going to be getting better every year.” Adds Kutler, “I’ve heard it said that he ‘bleeds Ithaca blue,’ and I think that’s certainly true.”
McClatchie says that above all, he loves contributing to the athletics department’s main goal of creating a positive experience for student athletes. He’s happy, he says, “just to know that the kids going through this athletics program [are being] affected in a positive way. That’s what I’m here for.”
And while others continue to dream about scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl or pitching a no-hitter in the World Series, McClatchie is content with his role behind the scenes. “People go to games just to have fun. I go to games [for fun but also] to work and get paid for it,” he says. “Not very many people get to do something where they look forward to going into work every day. I’m doing something that I love.”
—with Maura Stephens