Lack of experience did not prevent Triton High School from hiring Dave Dempsey (pictured above) two years ago to be the special education coordinator or from hiring him last year to be the school’s athletic director.
One of the numerous side effects of tight budgets is the necessity of adding staff that comes cheaply and spreading the staff around that already is in place.
“I interviewed at Triton two years ago wanting to move to the administrative level in special ed after 25 year of being in the trenches with some of the most difficult population in Lynn and Peabody,” explained the 55-year-old Boxford resident in a recent conversation I had with him in his office.
One year later the Triton administration decided to spread Dave a little bit thinner by offering him the athletic director’s job. By itself, not so bad, but combined with the special ed job not so easy.
In our interview, Dave spoke often of the need for athletes and coaches to be willing to give more than what is expected of them. By taking the AD job he set a fine example in that regard. His willingness to add the AD job to his workload enabled the Triton district to hire a full-time physical education teacher instead of just a part-time one. That hiring allowed juniors and seniors to have physical education instead of being housed in 50-60 student study halls in the library and cafeteria.
“Taking on both positions certainly has been a challenge to say the least both time-wise and management-wise,” explained Dave. He mentioned that in this year alone he had gone through a schedule of 158 special ed meetings.
Becoming AD at Triton had challenge written all over it. All you need to know is that last year there was no athletic department or director at Triton. High user’s fees and significant donations from Viking Heroes paid the bills and the coaches took care of their teams the way they wanted to.
This year there’s a budget of over $400,000 so the money part is less of an issue. How the programs are run, well that’s Dave’s issue. He knew right away that organizational concerns would be a priority. He also knew that his being a newcomer, and there being no department last year, might be problems. “Change is difficult for everybody,” he understated.
When the changes involved coaches, things turned bitter among some in the Triton community. “I do not hire and fire coaches,” he added referring to the departures of the football, hockey, and cheerleading coaches. “Many of our coaches have been here for a long time.”
Dave has a background in coaching. He coached football, track, and girls’ basketball during a combination of 20+ years at Lynn Classical and Peabody. “I wasn’t an administrator but I saw what it takes to make athletics function.”
Some of the changes he’s made at Triton include; (1) bringing athletes, coaches and parents together before each season to hear the academic and athletic expectations from the principal, athletic director and coach, (2) advertising coaching positions two seasons ahead of schedule, and (3) bringing players and coaches together for group pictures the Saturday before the season starts.
Close to completion, and subject to school committee approval, is; (1) a handbook for coaches and (2) an evaluation tool for evaluating coaching performance.
A bumper sticker at Triton reads, “Winning takes place in the off-season.” With that in mind, the remodeled weight room should be a busy place this summer. “We expect to have it reopened on July 7th and with some new equipment,” said Dave. “The new football and hockey coaches are putting together a summer workout program for all athletes. The weight room will be available for eight weeks on Monday through Thursday for two hours each day.”
Dave also has plans for next school year. Some of these plans include; (1) setting up a Homework Club at the middle school that would involve academic assistance as well as supervised physical activity, (2) evening study halls for freshman athletes several nights each week, and (3) ten to twelve athletes in uniform traveling monthly to the three elementary schools in the district to read to kids there and talk about sports.
As Dave described the dual role he has at Triton, it was easy to see how overwhelming it could be. He insisted on telling me how important his secretaries, Karen Atherton (athletics) and Sandy Soucy (special ed) are. “They really keep things running,” he explained. “They both handle the paperwork. They care tremendously about Triton and people need to know how valuable they are. I couldn’t function without them.”
( Produced for The Town Common for publication on June 18th )