(written for Somerville Patch)
Nicole Viele, the first female athletic director in Somerville High School history, received the Ted Damko award last winter from the Massachusetts Secondary School Athletic Directors Association. The award recognizes ADs with five or fewer years of experience who have “made significant contributions to the school, league, district and State.”
Viele, 36, received the award after the seven winter Highlander teams went a combined 58-34-3, including 22-13 in the Greater Boston League, and all qualified for the postseason. The boys and girls indoor track and field teams captured GBL titles.
Despite Somerville’s winter success, and in spite of its lack thereof in the fall and spring – in which Somerville’s teams combined for a .347 winning percentage, although girls cross-country won the GBL in the fall, as did cheerleading in the fall and winter – Viele said she is far more focused on meeting student needs and promoting development than just winning and losing.
“Overall, the program has grown numbers-wise,” Viele said on Tuesday. “For the majority of programs, they’ve been able to have consistent success. The reality is that every year, you get a different group of student-athletes who come through the door and have different needs, and you have to be dynamic in what you’re providing for them.”
Viele said that part of providing for those needs lies in student empowerment.
“You have to involve them,” Viele said. “It’s just like in a classroom. If you’re teaching a specific subject, and you don’t give that student ownership of that subject, and ownership of their knowledge, then how are they going to engage?”
Viele said part of that engagement may be forming an academic council comprised of Somerville athletes to explore increasing minimum eligibility requirements.
“The reality is that our students in Somerville High School should have the goal and should want to have a goal for some post-secondary opportunity. If it’s college, we want to get them there, and we want to have them use youth sport as an avenue to get there.”
Just dressing in Somerville’s red and blue may not be enough.
“It’s harder and harder today to get into a college,” Viele said. “Even the state colleges are really difficult to get into for some of the students. There has to be something that’s going to set them aside, and minimal requirements are not good enough.”
Somerville’s most successful program this year was its track program. The six Highlander track teams – boys and girls cross-country, indoor and outdoor track and field – combined to go 22-1, all in GBL meets.
Sophomore Andre Rolim won the state championship in the 600 Meter, and seniors Edward Chen, Jermaine Carty and John Thomas, along with Rolim, won the 1600 Meter relay. There were 18 GBL all-stars from the fall and winter track teams. Rolim and junior Nicole Genard will compete in the New Balance Nationals June 16-18 in Greensboro, N.C.
Viele said that while strong internal organization and supportive parents and boosters helped, the all-important coach-athlete relationship is what really made the program so dominant.
“The track team does well because they have invested coaches,” Viele said. “Not that all of our coaches are not invested, but that particular program does well because their coaches are so invested in the performance of the students. Not just in the classroom, not just the on the track, I mean they really are just invested in them as people.”
Other programs were not as successful during the 2010-2011 school year. The golf team, baseball team and both tennis teams did not win a GBL game. The golf and boys tennis teams did not win a single game.
Viele said Tuesday that some of the less successful programs, such as the softball team (2-6 GBL, 4-14 overall), did not win because of young starters and rebuilding teams. For others, however, the former physical education teacher from South Glens Falls, NY, said the issues are access and availability.
“We don’t have a golf course in the city of Somerville,” Viele said. “It’s not like our kids are going out and being caddies for people and getting opportunities to play free golf. If you look in the city, there are only four tennis courts in the entire city.”
Despite poor records for some of these teams, Viele said she continues to see signs of improvement and success. Viele said the golf team has nearly quadrupled in size since she took over, and the tennis team showed great improvement across its season.
“When I went down to their first match, their skills were a little rusty,” she said. “And when I go down to a match in the middle of the season, you see progress. You see that they’re focusing on their form; they’re paying attention to the force that they’re putting behind the ball. … That is part of the process of growth to be able to win, and it will get there.”
Viele said that when she first took over as AD five years ago, her initial impression was that the program was strong, but lacked sub-varsity programs. She has since added freshman boys and girls soccer, freshman girls volleyball, club Ultimate Frisbee for both boys and girls, and multiple levels of club crew.
“The success is about getting more student-athletes involved in a sport, a lifetime sport, and having the opportunity to participate in something.”