WILMINGTON – On Monday afternoon, Town Crier Sports Editor Jamie Pote sat down with the newly named Wilmington High School Athletic Director Mia Muzio for a 40-minute long interview. Muzio, who will take over on a full-time basis on July 1st, has verbally agreed to contract terms and will officially sign her contract in the upcoming days. In the interview, we touched on a large amount of different topics, and the questions and her responses are below.
What are your thoughts on the process you went through here to get the position?
It was definitely very involved. Last year I did six or seven interviews across the state, so I'm a little bit used to the step-by-step process. This was the first one that involved a public forum. Public speaking is not a fear of mine but it's definitely not by strongest suit. I say 'um' a lot and I try to work on that, but I think it was a good process to go through.
Sitting down in front of the first panel is the first tell-all if you are going to be able to make it to the next round. It's good to talk to those people as I think you get a sense of the community. Then you have the public forum and that's a little bit different. You tend to get the people who really have something to say. It's just hard to express yourself in that situation. It's difficult but at the same time you get a lot of information because people will tell you what is needed and what they are looking for. It was definitely a good opportunity.
To meet with the kids was awesome and it was good to interact and the same with the coaches and the staff. That second round was just a really good way of getting to know everyone.
It's easy to say that you're all in and then you get somewhere and it's like 'oh no' but I thought this was an awesome opportunity. Also having (Wilmington School Administrators) come to my school was something that I never experienced before either. Not being in the room was a little difficult but if you are really looking for an all encompassing view, you have to go through those steps. Talking to people who actually work for someone, beyond just their references, is just a lot of good insight to have.
You mentioned that you have interviewed at other places, where, and why have you been applying elsewhere?
I was a finalist in Fitchburg, I made it to the second round in Scituate and also went to the second round at Dover-Sherborn and was one of the two finalists at Triton Regional (the other being former WHS AD Tim Alberts, who was named the AD). I was just looking for somewhere to stay.
Weymouth has been great and it's been such an amazing experience. I definitely have learned a lot more than I thought I would at this point, but I certainly had to go through all of that. I had to be a part of a community that had that large number of kids, a school that has a lot going on and going through some changes so it could get me in the right position to get into the right Athletic Department.
Being an Athletic Assistant, I was used to the fast pace of an athletic department, but being in that position (of an Athletic Director) at Weymouth, because there's so many kids, there's so many student-athletes, there's so many sports – we have so many it's unreal – (taught me a lot). We have boys volleyball, rugby and it's just a big school and community. There's 29 programs, 61 different teams and about 1,900 students in the school.
I think being there was the best thing I could have done to prepare myself for a situation like this here in Wilmington. I have been able to do so much, too and I probably wouldn't have been able to come into another place and make some changes that I have. I'm very grateful to everyone at Weymouth.
What have you learned as an AD at Weymouth?
Working to implement things for kids that goes beyond just playing. We have been able to send a lot of kids to many of the MIAA workshops, develop an Athletic Guide (handbook), running a middle school athletic program and just focusing in on organizing the department as well. It's been a transition role.
Before I took over last July 15th, Peter Umbrianna, was an interim for a year and he is now at Scituate. Before him was Kevin Mackin and he was there for a while maybe since 2003. It's just been a lot of transition in that office with three people serving over three years. The (department) just needed a push in the right direction, a little bit of purging away from things from 20 years ago. I think we just tried to put things into place where kids can hold onto – whether it's having guest speakers about leadership and right now we're working on having a captains council. I didn't get to implement that this year, but I put everything into place for it to start next year.
We recently reinstated the (Weymouth High School) Hall of Fame and that is in the works. They haven't had that since 2003 so it's exciting to see the influx of how many people will be nominated (for the next induction class). It was pretty inspiring to watch all of these people come together and figure out how are we going to do this, what the process is going to be since we haven't done it in so long and that sort of thing.
We also have done the letters and pins for the varsity athletes. Those little things but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done there. I'm hoping to button up a few things there before I leave and ensure that the person that comes in continues with all of the hard work the coaches and staff have put in.
What are you most proud of during your time at Weymouth?
Yes, those things I just mentioned, but getting the coaches to buy into the things you want to implement. There's been so many things and the lists is pretty extensive. Overall, though, the organizational piece was the big thing. I worked to improve on the cohesiveness of the athletic department, whether that was having Booster Club Meetings with all of the Booster groups from every team so we could get everyone on the same page, doing a Booster three-year plan, and developing captain selection protocol, or updating the athletic website.
We have a strength and conditioning room that Coach Pat O'Toole runs, it's a pretty cool place. We had the Boosters group rally around him so he could he do his thing, so they raised money just for that. The Athletic Department has some money, but to run a strength and conditioning program is a lot more involved and now he has his own Booster program, his own fundraisers and they all go to him so he can update his equipment.
We have also found uniforms and things that have been there since the 1970s, so it's been a challenge for sure, but I go to work everyday and ten hours passes faster than you realize. I may not be able to get everything done that I wanted to for that day, but it's all such a good experience.
What attracted you or what do you know about Wilmington?
Wilmington was in the Cape Ann League and always a powerhouse when I was in high school at Rockport. We would always dread coming to play against them but watching growth and development and moving out of the Cape Ann League and going to the Middlesex League, I want to be in a strong (athletic league) with great communities.
I have always been drawn to the Cape Ann League, but now working at Weymouth, I like the idea of (playing against) some bigger schools. I think there's 900 kids here at Wilmington and there seems to be a lot of pride here from what I gather.
When I first started my coaching career with the North Reading Field Hockey team, I would scrimmage Wilmington so I got to know (Coach) Leanne (Ebert) and she was just awesome to play against. Plus being on the North Shore is a big piece for me. I like it here, I like the communities that are here, I like the coach connections that I have here and the Athletic Director connections that I have. It's not to say that its different anywhere else, but from Hamilton-Wenham to Rockport and just everyone in the Cape Ann League that grew up with me as an athlete, or worked with me when I was at (Triton, Hamilton-Wenham and North Reading) have all kind of moved me to where I want to go.
I do need to learn some more about Wilmington. Absolutely and that's certainly on my to-do list, but I think new school, a strong community, good kids, a strong athletic program (is a good place to start). The Middlesex League is certainly a tough league, but I think that provides a challenge and that's a challenge I'm looking forward of taking on. Building athletic programs happens from the ground up and I talked about that a lot in the public forum. You need to lay down the right foundation and you end up with successful teams, just like the (WHS) girls basketball program.
I think it's good to stay in a challenging league and ultimately you end up rising to the occasion, but it's hard when you struggle a lot. I know all about that coming from Rockport. We often struggled in the Cape Ann League, specifically in Field Hockey. It's hard when it comes to those certain sports, but I think there's certain things that can get implemented that push programs in the right direction.
People talk about keeping kids here at the school and there's so many ways you can keep kids here. You won't keep them all. It just won't happen at any school. But by going down to the youth programs, talking to the elementary school kids, being in the middle schools, that's how you keep kids. I know winning also keeps kids, but you need to get those kids to where they want to be and then you start winning games.
What is your plan of having the WHS Athletic Department and sports programs more involved with the youth programs here in town?
Right now my Weymouth Baseball Coach is having his senior players go out to the elementary schools in town and they are reading books about baseball to the kids, while being in their baseball uniforms. It's just little things like that where a little kid will be like 'whoa'. There's a lot of things that can be done (to keep kids here) but I think it's also going to take me some time. I'll need to be in here for a while, see things for myself and try to figure out what's a priority.
What did you gather as priorities from that open forum?
There were a lot of concerns. I think money came up quite a bit, in regards to uniforms, equipment, fundraising and how you keep everyone at the level they should be at in terms of outfitting the kids with what they need to play their sport. And Wilmington doesn't have user's fees. That's a challenge in itself. The camps during the summer are an awesome opportunity to create some funds.
Fundraising I think has become just so monotonous. Parents don't want to do it anymore because they have to do the same thing over and over again. I think here, it's about looking at what the bigger fundraisers are – having a car show in the parking lot so you have everyone with an antique car within a 50-mile radius and they pay fifty bucks to park their car. It's little things like that.
I talked about the cornhole event, which I think is awesome and you would probably have to make it 21-plus, so there's just some great opportunities to do less fundraising but get more money. There's huge opportunities to do these big fundraisers that benefit every team, instead of having every sport do ten fundraisers. That will get the uniforms, it'll get new equipment, new mats for the cheerleaders and things like that they are significant costs. We ran into that at Weymouth. We have user fees, but we have a lot of costs because we have so many kids, so many athletes, so many different teams so it's definitely been difficult.
Do you have any other concerns or do you have things that you like about what you have heard about Wilmington?
I think talking to those parents – and not everyone is going to agree with me on this – was nice to hear that people want to voice their concerns instead of internalizing them and waiting, waiting and waiting. They should want the best for their kids, they should advocate for their kids and they should do everything in their power to help their kids what they need. Not everyone will go on to become a professional athlete, but that doesn't matter because I think we should be able to go out and get the kids what they need.
I've talked to a lot of people in Weymouth about this and kids today really care particularly on how they look. How they look is how they present themselves and how they present themselves is how they carry themselves. If you are putting kids in a position to be confident about who they are, about being on a team, about having some pride being in their school, it often changes things more than people think. Uniforms are expensive but I think giving those kids an opportunity to have those things just reinvigorates school pride.
A lot of what came out of the forum with the students and the adults was just the (lack of) basic school pride.
When I went to the girls' basketball team's game against Dracut, what I saw in the gym was definitely school pride. There were a lot of kids there which was great and everyone was calm which was nice and everyone was cheering each other on, kids and parents. We're in a time now where parents don't always act the way they should at games, but it was really nice to see the support from everyone.
It's hard to generate school pride because often times school pride is predicated on winning. There's a way to turn it around to get better school pride and to push that into winning. There's obviously a lot of work that needs to be done in that area, especially when the concerns are coming from the kids, but the change won't happen overnight. I do think though that there's plenty of opportunities for kids to rally around each other, to be in their own communities and to be involved in their own communities.
You can't be at everything as an AD. It doesn't work – you are not 12 people. Spending time at youth games, working with youth clinics and taking time to get out of your office is really difficult. People think that's easier said than it is, but it's very difficult. You get up to leave and your phone rings or the alert goes off for an email, but you are like 'nope, I have to go'. If you have to come to an event on a Saturday then you do. Prior to my athletic director experience, I was a coach and I held three jobs just to get where I wanted to go and be an AD. If you have to put in the hours, then that's what you have to do.
It's definitely a lot of work and not an easy task but once you get the coaches to buy-in, the students to buy-in, the community to buy-in, then everyone is on board.
For me, it's just a no-brainer because I just immerse myself into everything I do. When I got the Weymouth position, everyone kept telling me that I had to observe for a year and I went into that thinking that way because that's what a lot of people in my life told me to do, but after three weeks I was like 'no, I'm done with that'. You just have to get into it and do what you think is right. I'd rather get thrown in.
I'm absolutely an observer. If there's things that I observe that have to be changed, that's the first thing I'll start with and I'll figure out what's the best way to change this and how can we all make this better. I just immerse myself into everything. People sometimes think that I go overboard. I have coaches who email me at 11 pm on a Saturday night and there's been times when I immediately respond to them, and they'll say 'what are you doing' but I'm on my couch working. That's just who I am.
People will ask me if I love my job and yes, absolutely I do. Obviously people need a break sometimes, but I do love my job. I wouldn't have spent all of this time, effort and energy to get here. It's not been an easy road. It's taken me a long time. I thought once I got done with Grad School, it would be like 'oh yeah, here's an AD job wherever you want' but it doesn't work that way. If someone told me when I was in high school playing field hockey that I would eventually become the AD at Wilmington High, I would have told them that they were out of their mind. Since high school, I have known that this is what I want to do so I don't want to waste anyone's time.
You may or may not know some of this, but what are your thoughts on the ice rink situation here in town or about the possibility of starting a gymnastics program?
I don't know exactly what's going on with the hockey situation but I have spent some time thinking about it wondering what the next steps are and what I need to do to help the situation. I will spend some time with Ed (Harrison) during the transition process just to figure out what's been examined, what's been done, what's the problem and if there's other places or options.
The gymnastics piece, and hockey and things like that, I think are things that I need to observe and get into communication with the people involved. I have read about it, but at least in my experience, parents do come and talk to me when they want something changed, but there's a whole list of things that need to be done before something like (adding a program) gets done. I do think that kids should be able to have the things that they are interested in, but there's a process. It's just something that I would need to observe and figure out.
How do you evaluate coaches?
I'm a firm believer in having a process. Ultimately it's a lot of work, but having pre-season goals are really important for coaches to have. Something needs to be worked for during your season.
The Athletic Director should be present at your games and practices couple of times during the season. Then you can have a formal evaluation at the end of the season. I also really think that coaches should have their own self evaluation. They should be able to examine their season. It's not easy to have a long season. I think that all coaches need to take the time to think about what happened, what we can fix, were you able to match up what you had listed with your pre-season goals? If things didn't, then what can we do?
Some people will disagree with me on this, but I think parent and student-athlete feedback is very important. The kids are the ones who are there everyday and the parents are the ones who are with the kids everyday, and yes, not all of them will be productive, but you can weed through and figure out the ones who are there for the right reasons and which ones are not. I don't think that happens enough.
I talk a lot of about student-athletes having a voice. I haven't been able to change the evaluation process yet at Weymouth, but that's something that I'm hoping I can pass on to whoever is coming in. Those are the kinds of things that I want to hit when it comes to coaches evaluations. Obviously you have to get things approved by the school committee and the principal, but there should be some self reflection and feedback.
When you evaluate coaches, are X's and O's an important factor? After games, do you like to talk X's and O's with coaches?
I don't consider myself to be that type of an athletic director. Coaches coach their own programs and the reason why you have them on staff is because they know what they are doing. We know that there's always situations where a program may not have the best coach, but in my opinion as long as coaches are doing what they are supposed to be doing, in regards to making kids better people, help them understand what it is to be part of a team, how to deal with adversity, then the X's and O's are not my concerns.
Obviously winning is important, but it's not the ultimate goal when it comes to high school athletics. Unless a coach wants to come to me and talk about (strategies), I don't ever visualize myself questioning something they do in a situation when it comes to X's and O's.
If it's behavior, that's different. If there's a situation that comes down to behavior between a coach and a kid or just a kid or something like that, then that's where I would interject myself.
I feel that coaches should own their programs. As a former coach, I think that's important. If you have someone questioning what you are doing on a regular basis about the actual technicality of that particular sport, it tends to be a case of undermining. As long as coaches are doing the right thing and they are following the guidelines that we set out as a school, then they'll get all of the support that they need from me. I think if coaches do those things, that will evolve into winning.
Have you hired coaches during your tenure at Weymouth?
Yes, I hired the girls basketball coach. He is a physical education teacher at the high school and used to be the boys basketball head coach about ten years ago. I also hired a new varsity softball coach, and then we added some subvarsity coaches. We're also in the process of adding a new varsity field hockey coach.
Sportsmanship has been stressed so much the last few years with high school athletics, have you had any problems with that at Weymouth?
We did have an occasion where there was some unsportsmanlike behavior and it had to be dealt with and things need to be the same across the board between the coaching staff, the athletic director and the student-athletes so ultimately sportsmanship is the number one priority. I don't always talk about winning, but you need to behave like an adult and as long as everyone is holding everyone to that same expectation, students and coaches alike, then we won't have a lot of issues.
What's your thought on becoming the first (official) female Athletic Director in WHS history?
I think it's a great challenge. Often times, the common perception is that you need to be a male to be an athletic director, but luckily perception is changing across the nation. As long as you are knowledgeable, you are into it for the right reasons, you know athletics, you know about high school athletics, then I don't see a reason why a female shouldn't be able to be in that position. It's a lot more work and it's a lot more convincing of people that you know what you are talking about, but as soon as you do, you are immediately put on the same platform as other AD's.
When you walk into a room and you're the only female, yeah it can be a little intimidating, but I have had good people in my life like (former Rockport Athletic Director and Field Hockey coach) Mary Ryan, who has always told me head high and shoulders back and that's how I carry myself. That comes with a lot of learning because I don't think I would be as confident if I was trying to fake it. Sometimes you do because you come across situations that you have never dealt with before and you think 'what did I get myself into?' but you have to go with your gut and trust your instincts and education. As long as you have good people in your life, who help you learn — and I did when I was a coach — then you feel confident in handling all situations that come your way. Without a doubt, Mary is probably the reason why I am here right now.
Besides work, what else can you tell the Wilmington Community about yourself?
I live in Gloucester with my boyfriend and our dog 'Capone'. Originally I was born in Vermont so I have family up there so I go up there quite a bit.
I have a brother on my Mom's side and he is in Idaho right now snowboarding and he works at a ski area, living his life and he is loving it. He is 24. I have another brother from Rockport and he went to St. John's Prep and he plays baseball at Belmont-Abbey (College) in North Carolina and he is 20.
My dad played baseball at Boston University. My mom was a field hockey player but also a musician so she kind of left the athletic world. My dad's side of the family all played sports so athletics is a huge part of our family. Not everyone went on to continue to play after high school, but athletics helped us build a foundation for our lives. My dad drives it in my head every single day that sports is much more than just sports. That's a big part of my philosophy when it comes to myself being an athletic director, that there are bigger and better things in life. Other than that, I'm a workaholic and I enjoy it.
I do know that I'm really excited to get going here at Wilmington. I know there's some time before that happens. I have met Ed and Caroline (Gattuso) and she is great. She seems to know everything that is going on which is awesome. So we'll have two females running the athletic department so that should be really good.
I can't wait to get started!