Shoreham-Wading River athletic director retiring after 10 years

Before Mark Passamonte got hired as the athletic director at Shoreham-Wading River High School, the position was ever-rotating, with seven different ADs running operations over a period of five years. Not exactly a recipe for success. The parents and athletes in the area yearned for some stability and Mr. Passamonte gave it to them — for 10-plus years. The popular — and successful — AD has recently announced that he will retire, leaving behind a program that has become synonymous with winning.

A physical education teacher for 14 years in Canton, N.Y., before he earned his administrative degree, Mr. Passamonte served as the dean of students and eventually the principal in that district. At that point he had 10 years left in his career and wanted to pursue a full-time athletic director position, so he started applying around the state.

“I’ve taught, I’ve coached and I love working with kids,” Mr. Passamonte said. “But being an AD afforded the opportunity to impact a whole program of kids. I applied to a job in Rochester and then the job here at Shoreham opened up. It reminded me of Canton when I got here. It was a quiet, woodsy, small town. I’ve got to be honest with you: if I was offered a job in Nassau County, I wouldn’t have taken it. I loved the area and how close it is to the water.”

Mr. Passamonte was offered the position in December 2013 and officially started in January 2014. Although it was less than ideal to start a new position smack dab in the middle of a school year, extenuating circumstances warranted an immediate hire. Lynn Schwartz was originally hired as the interim athletic director in July 2013 but abruptly resigned in September. William Denniston, a physical education teacher, was appointed to the interim position as SWR scrambled to find a full-time director. 

“The first thing you do in any admin job … is to kind of let it go for a year just to see what the culture was like,” Mr. Passamonte said. “And I found out very quickly that Shoreham was a very athletic-oriented district. The community was passionate and intense about its sports.”

The revolving door of athletic directors showed that the AD position at SWR wasn’t for the faint of heart. Mr. Passamonte was thrown right into the gig after long-time, legendary lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz was stripped of his position. Mr. Rotanz was let go in November 2013, after 19 years on the bench, a month before Mr. Passamonte was hired. Mr. Rotanz had just won a Long Island championship the year before but was deemed “too controversial” by then-superintendent Steven Cohen. The dismissal sparked an outcry in the community and a school board meeting almost ended in blows. The coach won five state titles during his tenure and more than 100 supporters came to the high school library to lobby for his reinstatement. That didn’t happen, and new era of SWR sports began.

“The Rotanz situation happened before I got there so I kind of got a fresh slate to work with,” Mr. Passamonte said. “I just wanted to continue the success of the program and keep it moving in the right direction.”

The fall of 2014 brought tragedy and triumph. In a football game against John Glenn, Thomas Cutinella, who was a 16-year old SWR junior at the time, suffered a brain injury and collapsed on the field. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital. The tragedy sent shockwaves through the community and Mr. Passamonte was right in the middle of it.

“It was horrible,” he recounted. “There’s no two ways about it. As a former coach, that’s something that never crosses your mind, something like that happening. It was a tragedy and a difficult time for everyone, including myself. But to the credit of our kids and coaches, we rallied around that.”

The football team ended up winning the Long Island championship that year. They adopted the motto “Tommy Tough” and earned the Rutgers Trophy, which is awarded annually to Long Island’s best football team across all divisions. It was a moment that brought everyone in the community together. It gave the season a higher purpose and through all the grieving, the team prevailed. The Wildcats girls soccer team also found success that fall, winning its third Suffolk County championship.

In 2015, the school revealed plans to build a new athletic complex dedicated to Cutinella. In 2016, Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field opened. His jersey number — 54 — was plastered on everyone’s helmet. In a standing-room-only crowd for the first football game of the season, SWR steamrolled Center Moriches, 56-0. Thomas’s brother, Kevin, scored on his only one carry of the game — a run of precisely 54 yards. The football team won 34 of 36 games in the three seasons following Cutinella’s death. 

“One of my proudest accomplishments was getting that field done here,” Mr. Passamonte said. “Passing that bond meant so much to everyone involved. It made such an impact on the community and Cutinella will never be forgotten.”

SWR had long boasted a prestigious, winning athletic program, and Mr. Passamonte vowed to keep it that way. He knew it all started with the coaches. During his tenure at SWR, the football team won seven county championships and four Long Island titles. The girls soccer team claimed five Suffolk County crowns, two Long Island championships and a state title in 2019. The boys lacrosse team won three Suffolk County titles and one state championship. The girls basketball team won its first-ever Suffolk County title in 2023. The wrestling team has produced talent left and right, including reigning state champion Gavin Mangano

“As the athletic administrator I don’t dictate who plays, I don’t even go down that road,” Mr. Passamonte said. “We hire professional coaches who are able to make those decisions. I just tried to be the resource and give the coaches and kids the support they needed whether it was equipment, fields or whatever. The biggest plus here was having a central administration that always supported athletics. With that support, the sky’s the limit.”

Looking back at his 10 years at the helm, Mr. Passamonte reflected on how no two days were ever the same. His proudest achievement, in his view, is that he stuck through it all.

“My biggest accomplishment was bringing stability to the program,” he said. “They had so many different athletic directors in such a small amount of time. I’m happy I could give the parents some stability. If you have consistency and stability, that’s the core of success.”

With Mr. Passamonte retiring at the end of the school year, SWR appointed Eric Bramoff to be his successor starting July 1. Mr. Bramoff left Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District, where he was the director of athletics and physical education. 

“The Shoreham-Wading River community has been wonderful to me and my family,” Mr. Passamonte said. “When I took the job here, all I wanted was for the kids to enjoy their athletic experience. Even if there was a 0-20 team and the kids loved the coach, that would be a success to me. I want kids to come back 10 years from now and say how great of an experience they had in Shoreham-Wading River athletics. I know Eric [Bramoff] is the right guy to keep this thing going. Once he immerses himself in the culture, he’ll see what a special place this is.”