Phonsey Lambert was in a concession stand cooking up hamburgers when he was summoned recently to the Saratoga Central Catholic gymnasium to hand out basketball trophies after a tournament game.
“There are so many details involved with this job,” Lambert said. “You can get pulled in a lot of different directions.”
That pull becomes even greater when you’re a school’s athletic director who also coaches a team or two, like Lambert does. The Saints varsity baseball and bowling coach is among a dwindling number of such individuals in Section II.
“I’m basically at the school 24/7,” said Lambert, who previously coached football and basketball at the school, too. “With everything going on, you have to be there to keep up. I don’t look at it as a job. It’s more of a calling.”
In the Suburban Council where Section II’s largest schools mix together, there aren’t any athletic directors at this time leading youngsters in scholastic competition, where a generation ago coaching two and sometimes three sports teams was common.
“There’s so much you have to supervise and oversee,” said Schenectady athletic director Steve Boynton, a former assistant football coach at the high school. “Between modified, JV and varsity, we have 90 teams. We are similar to the others [in the Suburban Council], if not less. We don’t have field hockey, gymnastics or Alpine skiing.”
For each of those teams there are coaches to hire, support and advise. There are game schedules to iron out and buses to assign. There are competitions and practices to monitor. Officials and opposing teams to tend to at home sporting events. Parental and student-athlete issues to hash out. Sometimes, there are problems to solve.
“You have to give the job what it deserves,” Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said. “It’s extremely challenging to balance it all with the sheer size and scope of our program.”
Shenendehowa’s program, like many programs in Section II, has grown in terms of sports offered over the last few decades.
“The job of athletic director is unbelievably demanding and time-consuming,” said Section II Executive Director Ed Dopp, a former athletic director and baseball coach at Shaker. “You’re not just putting out schedules.”
“If you have free time,” Boynton said, “you’re not doing it right.”
Dopp said the demands increase for those certified as directors of physical education, health and athletics.
“You probably have 20 to 30 athletic programs and there are little fires, if not big fires, every day,” Dopp said. “Most oversee K through 12 physical education. Most oversee the health program. Some work with the school nurses. They are almost always part of the district’s administrative team. Then, if you coach, it’s at last five days a week, and for most six or seven days — and most of those coaches are involved in youth programs.”
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Athletic directors are also involved in various Section II sports committees, often making long days a bit longer. Gloversville athletic director Mike DeMagistris is the Section II baseball chairman and also a member of the Section II football committee. He coaches varsity baseball, too.
“Every AD is on some type of committee. Mixed competition. Modified committee,” DeMagistris said. “It’s the only way sports are going to work. It’s all volunteer. No one is paid for it.”
While time constraints are certainly a factor in fewer ADs coaching, Lambert pointed to another.
“There were people who used to coach 30, 35 years. They were in it for the long haul. They continued to coach as they moved into those positions, and you don’t see that trend any more,” Lambert said. “There’s a lot of turnover with coaching. Now, they’ll go for 15 years and be done or move down to [coach] modified.”
DeMagistris, who has been Gloversville’s AD for 12 years and its varsity baseball coach for nine, said he has no plans to step away from the diamond.
“How much longer? I can’t answer that,” DeMagistris said. “I still enjoy being around the kids. It’s challenging, but it’s fun.”
Among other athletic directors who lead teams are Schuylerville’s John Bowen who coaches varsity football, Greenwich’s Kevin Collins who is a varsity football assistant, Argyle’s Jack Sherwin who coaches boys’ varsity basketball, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons’ Pat Moran who coaches varsity girls’ basketball, and Waterford-Halfmoon’s Mike Robbins who coaches varsity baseball.
At Mekeel Christian Academy, head master Chad Bowman coaches the varsity boys’ basketball team. Meanwhile, Hoosick Falls Superintendent Ken Facin coaches the school’s varsity girls’ basketball team.
“I have a great amount of respect for the people in coaching and athletic administration,” DeMagistris said. “For people who get into it, it’s six, seven days a week on the job.”
The job is a little easier when you have quality help.
“You’re only as good as your support system,” Lambert said. “I do what I can for all of our programs, but you’ve go to surround yourself with good people in school and good parents to make it work.”