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Opinion: Cosenza Leaves Big Shoes to Fill at Fitchburg High

April 13, 2019

As of Friday, the posting’s deadline had passed. From here, all applications will be reviewed, and there will be no additional applications taken.

And sometime within the next two months, Fitchburg Public Schools will have itself a new athletic director.

Yeah, I can’t believe I just wrote those words, either.

And while I will share some thoughts and memories and personal insights about outgoing AD Ray Cosenza later on, I want to talk about what I would like the search committee to focus on when getting ready to appoint the next leader of FHS athletics.

After all, I work closely with the AD in not only my role as a short-term historian for this publication, but also as someone involved in other aspects of Red Raider life, such as the FHS Hall of Fame.

And sure, the candidate has to be organized, be good with bus scheduling, etc. Yeah, that does come with the territory, but I have some other requests for the committee to take into consideration.

* The prime candidate must put FHS student-athletes first.

That’s a no-brainer. When you wear the heavy mantle of FHS athletic director, your prime job is to lead, but you also have to be the biggest cheerleader for those kids.

One of the things I’ve carried with me as an interscholastic sports journalist is that it has to be about the kids, and every decision made is in the kids’ best interests. It’s what Cosenza did and continues to do, what Doug Grutchfield did. Same with former ADs Tom Crank, Jack Conway, Marty McDonough, Loring Reed Stevenson, and Clarence Amiott.

* The prime candidate must know the history of FHS-LHS.

Another no-brainer. The history between Fitchburg and Leominster -- or Leominster and Fitchburg, if you’re reading on the other side of Twin City Plaza -- is long and storied. And the prime candidate must know their place in such a rivalry.

Just last week I wrote the Hall of Fame bio for 10th Class inductee McDonough, who took over the football coaching role of Amiott in 1938, and ultimately succeeded Stevenson as AD in 1953. Just think of how McDonough felt in following the shadows of those two great Red Raiders -- and remember, McDonough was a Woburn boy before he came to Academy Street.

That prime candidate will be someone who will be in the same position as McDonough was, stepping into a role last held by legends. The candidate must acknowledge that, embrace it, and then forge their own path -- all while being mindful of the expectations surrounding them.

* The prime candidate doesn’t need to be male.

Tania Rich. Faith Merchant. Sue Lauder. Jen Lynch at Wachusett. Karrah Ellis at Tantasqua. Laureen Cipolla. And let’s go to the vaults: Pauline Ciccone. The last two are past Leominster ADs.

All have done -- or in the case of Lauder, Cipolla, and Ciccone, did -- great jobs in their roles.

Is this the time for Fitchburg to break the ceiling and go with a female AD?

Just remember: the list of ADs in Fitchburg have all been male. Other districts have succeeded under the leadership of a woman. I only have to look at Nashoba and what Rich -- my wife’s classmate -- has done there.

If there is any time for a female AD to hit Fitchburg, the time is now.

* The prime candidate should make this a long-term job.

Look at what five of the past FHS ADs have in common: Cosenza, 17 years. Grutchfield, 18. McDonough, 15. Stevenson, 15. Amiott, an astounding 25.

Yes, the AD at Fitchburg is generally in for the long haul. The winning candidate has to be ready to devote the next decade and a half to two decades of their lives to the Red and Gray. The candidate needs to start outreach to the middle schools, but not only that, needs to bring the city’s youth programs to the table. They need to show the youth of this city what it means to be a Red Raider, what’s expected of a student-athlete -- in nutrition, academics, and athletics -- and why they should come to Arn-How Road to represent their city and their school.

I’ve known two ADs -- technically, four; one was my biology teacher, and another was a referee after his career in education ended -- in my time as both a student at FHS and a professional covering them, and like those four men, the prime candidate must be ready to give everything they have for that athletic program.

Lots of others have. The AD has to go above and beyond that call -- in short, being all-in for the glory of Fitchburg High School.

With interviews about to begin, I trust the committee will make the right decision.