TEWKSBURY — He may or may not be the youngest individual to be appointed as head coach of a Massachusetts high school varsity athletic program but at the youthful age of twenty-five, Anthony Pontes is certainly among a select few who can make that claim.
Last year, when Tewksbury Memorial High School lacrosse coach Zach Jacobs was compelled to step down after landing a new position in law enforcement, Athletic Director Ronald Drouin asked Pontes if he would be interested in assuming the role.
While Pontes’ youth was a factor in the decision-making process, it was not an obstacle to choosing him to fill the vacancy. In fact, according to the Tewksbury AD, it was one of the reasons behind his selection.
“I believe in taking a chance on young people who are hungry and who show promise,” said Drouin. “Anthony is passionate and aspires to be a head coach. I like his energy and hopefully, it will translate over to the field.”
Along with steering the current Tewksbury lacrosse team to a successful season, Drouin also stressed that his new head coach will be expected to take charge, employ innovative methods to attract interest, and build a sustainable lacrosse program.
“We had a discussion about trying to connect with the youth levels,” shared Drouin. “We need to do a better job of getting our kids to play more lacrosse. We don’t have enough kids in our program and (Pontes) can help grow our program.”
Pontes, not surprisingly, is equal to the task.
“I met with AD Ron Drouin and we spoke about the coaching position a number of times,” said the newly-minted Tewksbury head coach, when reached several days before tryouts and team selection. “We talked briefly when I learned that Zach would not be returning. And later, we had a more formal, in-depth discussion. Among other factors, Drouin emphasized the importance of building a bridge with the Tewksbury Youth Lacrosse system.”
Pontes, a lifelong resident of Billerica, developed his lacrosse mastery during his high school years. As a member of the Class of 2014, Pontes competed for the Indians and helped the team qualify for the MIAA tournament in three of the four years he was with the program.
“Billerica was a good enough team to win the Merrimack Valley Conference every year I was with them and many others,” recalled Pontes, who played defense for the Indians. “We consistently reached the second or third rounds of the tournament each season. The only year we failed to win the MVC was in 2014, when I was a senior.”
“Anthony played for some very successful teams,” said former Billerica High Varsity Coach Craig Flynn. “He knows what it takes to create a winning culture. He brings a great work ethic and a wealth of lacrosse knowledge. There is no doubt in my mind that he will bring that program to another level.”
After leaving Billerica, Pontes went on to UMass Dartmouth but decided not to play lacrosse at the college level. He chose instead to focus on academics and a major in biology, coupled with a minor in political science. He admitted that it was an odd study combination but explained that he originally sought to pursue a career in environmental policy.
After Tewksbury Public Schools hired Pontes, however, it wasn’t long before he realized he had discovered his true calling.
“I started substitute teaching in the Tewksbury school system while I was still in college,” said Pontes, who earned both 2017 Dean’s List and Chancellor’s List honors while at UMass. “Before long, I accepted a fulltime job as an elementary school aide and really enjoyed the work.”
Today, Pontes works one-on-one with children who are on the autism spectrum. He is employed by Chelmsford Public Schools as a paraprofessional and currently works in a middle school. Like most teachers who choose this fulfilling vocation, Pontes finds the work enriching.
Also rewarding for Pontes is coaching. Prior to accepting the head coaching opportunity, he served as junior varsity coach with Tewksbury. As is often the case in high school athletics, the JV coach is expected to fill a dual role as assistant with the varsity team and Pontes did just that, working side-by-side with former head coach, Jacobs.
“We coached together in 2019 and Zach and I had a good working relationship,” said Pontes. “He actually recommended me for the job. As far as my earlier time with the program, as a former defenseman, I basically had responsibility for the varsity defense. The other two coaches were more offensive-minded.”
Drouin and Pontes have brought a pair of assistant coaches on board. Edward Stokes was a teammate of Pontes at Billerica and went on to play lacrosse at Salem State University. Dylan Leone, who hails from Tewksbury and played his college lacrosse at Franklin Pierce, was recommended by the girl’s head coach, Erin Murphy.
“I believe Dylan is 28 and Ed, like me, is 25 years-old,” said Pontes. “Ed also coaches an eighth-grade select team with Burlington Youth Lacrosse, so he has his hands full. Needless to say, we’re a young coaching staff.”
Inevitably, Pontes’ young age finds its way into conversations but he considers it a strong suit for the task ahead, which includes improving a program that holds a 103-195 overall record since its inception in 2005 and wrapped up the most recent season, prior to COVID-19, at 6-11. The year before that, the Redmen went winless in eighteen tries.
“When I substituted in Tewksbury, I would often teach a lot of these kids who are now playing for me,” he said. “They’ve seen me in the classroom. I was in the system and they know me. That adds a bit of a comfort zone for them. And I think our closeness in age will allow me to better connect with the players and help me to help them achieve their goals.”