In early January, Shoreham-Wading River welcomed Mark Passamonte as its newest athletic director. A SUNY/Cortland graduate with a teaching and coaching background, Mr. Passamonte, 45, most recently was a high school principal at Canton Central School for the past six years.
The News-Review caught up with Mr. Passamonte at his office Tuesday to see how the first three weeks on the job have been.
News-Review: You’re an upstate New York guy. Are you enjoying the frigid temperatures here?
Mark Passamonte: These aren’t frigid! Everybody’s joking with me that I brought the cold weather from northern New York down … I’m looking forward to early spring and later falls down here, that’s for sure.
NR: As a western New York native, are you a Bills/Sabres guy?
MP: Right on the money. Bills and Sabres. So I came down to Jet country.
NR: I had read that you said it was your “ultimate goal” to be an athletic director. What was it about this job that enticed you?
MP: I wasn’t necessarily looking on the island, per se. My wife grew up in Setauket and it wasn’t that we came down here for family because her family moved off Long Island 20 years ago, but it was one of those things where I was ready for the change. The opportunity was here. We’re settled in and things are going well.
NR: What was some of your background in sports? Did you play sports?
MP: I played soccer and baseball as my two main sports in high school. I did not play at the college level. When I got out of college I had the physical education degree and coaching comes along with that.
NR: What’s your favorite sport to watch?
MP: Probably I’d have to say football. The NFL as far as watching pro sports. At the high school level, I really enjoy them all. Everyone’s so unique and different.
NR: What kind of differences have you seen so far from the program at your previous school to SWR?
MP: Just being a little bit larger of a school. It’s about double what I had in Canton. I haven’t seen a huge difference. I don’t want to say there’s better athletes down here, there’s just more kids to choose from. Although I think our girls basketball team in Canton could run with Shoreham. We had a pretty strong basketball team up there.
NR: Obviously hockey was a big thing up there. A lot of kids played hockey?
MP: Absolutely. Canton had four state titles. Hockey was huge. Similar I think to lacrosse here. Lacrosse is pretty popular as well, but hockey is definitely the sport up there.
NR: Do you think there’s room for hockey to grow down here?
MP: It’s hard to say because of the lack of ice rinks. We had six rinks in a 10-mile radius. Every little town along the way has a rink. It’s not cheap to have a hockey rink. Is there a chance for hockey to grow? I would say probably not if it hasn’t at this point.
NR: You have two daughters. Do they play sports?
MP: Chloe is a freshman and Maggie is a seventh-grader and we are living right in the district. They both plan on doing spring track. My oldest will probably compete in swimming in the fall.
NR: As a coach, parent, does all that help in your role now in understanding where everyone’s coming from? Their perspectives?
MP: I think it does. Even before I became a parent, I think it does. To me, first and foremost, athletics ultimately just needs to be part of your education. Bottom line, kids are here for their schooling first. I’ll always have that philosophy as long as I’m in education. To me, I think back on my own experiences playing and the coaches I had that taught me the lifelong skills you need as far as values, integrity and honesty and leadership. Unfortunately there’s the other side where people take it a little too seriously.
NR: How are you going to try to balance the different needs between the athletes, coaches, parents and administrators?
MP: I think you can’t be afraid to say ‘I’ll get back to you.’ I think it has to be a consistency and a fairness. One coach may want the stars and you can’t give him the stars because ultimately the other coaches are going to find out about it. I think the key is just being fair and consistent with what decisions you make.
NR: When you first come in there are a lot of coaches to get to know. What kind of conversations do you have with the coaches when you first get here?
MP: It was great because all the coaches made me feel welcome. When I’m talking to the coaches I’ll offer them to come in or they’ll feel comfortable making appointments to go over what they feel their needs are. You have to just be a listener initially. Just talk with people and listen.
NR: Do you think it’s important as the AD to show face at games and get to know kids?
MP: Absolutely. The one difference that I’m finding is that as a high school principal, I was out in the halls all the time. I knew all the kids in the entire high school. I’ve had positive responses from community members. I’ve been at pretty much as many home games as I could, including the middle school level. That’s absolutely important because the kids need to see you and know who the athletic director is and know who the go-to person is.
NR: When you come to a new school, what kind of evaluations do you try to make to get your pulse on things?
MP: Coming in as a new person in the middle of the year, you have to listen and you have to be visible and know what’s going on. You can learn a lot by being out and about and meeting parents and talking with not just coaches, but community members. The visibility I’ve had in just three short weeks I’ve learned quite a bit. I’m not going to come in and make major changes. There is procedural stuff that will probably be changed, but that’s behind the scenes that people probably won’t even know what’s going on. I think everything runs pretty well here.
NR: Does it help when you come into a program with a lot of seasoned coaches?
MP: Absolutely. Prime example is the League VI wrestling tournament we’re hosting Feb. 8. Joe Condon, our wrestling coach, has hosted three of these. I think somebody like Joe is going to help because I’ll get for him what he needs to the best of my ability, but I’ve never run a wrestling tournament, so I don’t know the ins and outs of it.
NR: One of the hot-button topics around Shoreham has been selection classification regarding seventh- and eighth-graders coming up to varsity sports. Where do you stand on that issue?
MP: We’re having a board workshop on that [Monday], so I’m going to kind of wait on that to talk about anything. I’m going to make some recommendations to the board and make suggestions. I know it’s been an issue here. The superintendent shared that with me.
NR: Was there any direction you got from the Board of Ed when you came, in terms of how they want you to approach the job?
MP: No, nothing from the board. I think as I went through the interview process it was made clear that the board was looking for someone to come in and take a lot of the athletic issues away from the board. They want the athletic director to be the administrator of the program.
NR: OK, how about some quick trivia questions.
MP: Let’s see how good I am.
NR: Which Shoreham wrestler once had the record for most career wins in the county?
MP: Is it Jesse Jantzen?
NR: That’s a good one. Who was the only Shoreham athlete to make it to the big leagues in Major League Baseball?
MP: Oh, what’s his name? Osik!
NR: All right, two-for-two. This one will be a little trickier. Who was the only Shoreham girl to be offered Division I scholarships in three different sports?
MP: I wouldn’t have an idea.
NR: She graduated in the ’90s. Kerri Bettenhauser. Field hockey, basketball and softball.
MP: D-I in all three? Haven’t heard that name. Hey, not bad, two for three, for being a month into the job.