It’s been a while since Ernie Covington was a student.
Now he’s back to learning again in his job as the new athletic director and health/physical education supervisor at Ewing High School, which began on July 1.
Covington’s hiring is part of a turnover among some of the highest profile athletic leaders in the school district, which has replaced its high school football, boys’ and girls’ basketball coaches in the past eight months, as well as longtime Ewing athletic director Bud Kowal.
Covington said the departures are a bit of a mixed bag. “The bad of it is that you don’t have somebody that you just say, ‘All right, what you do, keep doing it.’ The good thing is that you can build new programs together and especially being a new AD, you can get the coaches input.”
He said that he tries to speak to the new coaches on a daily basis and find out their thoughts. “It’s just to make them a part of it because we’re all on one team, we’re all representing Ewing school district.”
Covington comes back to Ewing after working in the Bordentown Regional School District since 2007. He rose in the ranks there from a health and physical education teacher and baseball coach to assistant football coach, assistant principal in their middle school, and ultimately, assistant principal of athletics for Bordentown Regional High School.
“We were very impressed with Mr. Covington’s candidacy,” Ewing Superintendent Michael Nitti said. “He is an experienced administrator with expansive knowledge in athletics and progressive health and physical education. We think he will be an excellent addition to our team.”
Covington is not a complete stranger to Ewing and definitely knows the area. A graduate of The College of New Jersey, he went on to earn a master’s from Drexel University, Covington taught health and physical education at Ewing High for three months before a position opened up at Bordentown where he could teach and coach in the same building.
“Now I realize how little I knew about Ewing,” Covington said. “I didn’t realize how big and diverse it Ewing is.”
He said he has long admired the athletic programs at Ewing. Its reputation for success across the board and the depth of programs was attractive to Covington, who emerged from over 70 applicants for the position to replace Kowal. Covington hopes to continue the success Ewing had under Kowal’s direction while putting his own spin on the programs.
“It’s tough because things are working so well here that rule No. 1 is obviously to not mess anything up,” Covington said. “Different doesn’t mean bad, but a lot of people don’t like different. Adding a fresh perspective is a part I’m nervous about.”
Covington has spent much of the early part of his tenure learning the Ewing buildings and people that work in them. He’s becoming acclimated to the Ewing environment and finding out how everything works. With the start of the fall sports preseason on Aug. 12, Covington started to see more of the students.
“The No. 1 thing is that it’s all about the kids,” he said. “I was a little nervous, but now that the kids are showing up, they’re still student-athletes, which is what I’m here for. We make decisions for student-athletes, not because it’s convenient for me or coaches or parents or other administrators. What’s the best interest of the kids?”
Covington plans to use his experiences from playing, coaching and as an administrator to guide the Ewing athletic program.
“Honestly, what I like the most from my coaching experience is being a JV coach for so many years,” he said. “A lot of people, including parents, teachers and administrators who only go to the varsity football games or basketball games, they just see that top level,” Covington said.
His said his goal is to give every student-athlete an experience that they can treasure regardless of their level. Among the increased offerings at Ewing that Covington oversees is the Unified athletics program. Last year, Ewing’s unified basketball team won the state championship.
Covington said he’s familiar with the concept because there was a club unified team at Bordentown, but he’s excited to compete with other schools with Ewing.
“I was looking at pictures from their championship game at the Rutgers Athletic Center last year, and I see that and I’ve never been on the floor at the RAC and you think, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I’m looking forward to a unified program at the next level.”
Covington is hoping to get more students involved in athletics at Ewing. Married with a toddler, Covington sees himself as an approachable administrator.
“My question to all kids when I see them is, ‘why not? Why not try?’” he said. “My goal is to get my numbers up. I would love to have the problem that we don’t have enough uniforms and we need more facilities, because there’s so many kids who were interested in representing the school. Not that I’m going to learn everyone’s name, but hopefully they learn me, and I can have those conversations.”
Covington said he is thrilled to be able to remain the area. He graduated from Delran High School before playing football and baseball at TCNJ. He remained in the area professionally.
“It’s very important to me,” Covington said. “It’s funny. I always tell people I haven’t left a 35-minute radius since I moved down to South Jersey. It is important. It means a lot to me when people recognize my name. Especially going from Burlington County to Mercer County, I’ll still be neighboring to people.
“Hopefully I can use all my connections and contacts and relationships to make Ewing better, whether that’s through vendors or people that are going to allow me to provide the special experiences I want for the kids.”