Athletic Director Retires After Overseeing Nearly Two Decades Of Change And Success
First, the job included handwriting and faxing season schedules, as well as calling fellow athletic directors to postpone games because of soaking wet field conditions. Now, it involves e-mailing schedules and tweeting results of games played on the artificial turf, even after heavy rain.Renovations And AdditionsWorking With Great PeopleWhere It All BeganThe Bee selected Simon as its Sportsman of the Year for Outstanding Contributions to Newtown Sports to in 2000.
Indeed, a lot has changed in Gregg Simon's run as Newtown High School athletic director.
The addition of sports programs, extensive athletic facility renovations, and use of technology have all made for significant advancement in the way Simon has done his job.
One constant during his nearly two decades at the helm of the athletic department is seeing young student-athletes come into the school as freshmen and develop over the course of four years before graduating. That's one of the things Simon, who has retired, will miss most about his time at Newtown High.
Simon took on the athletic director role in 1999; although his last day was officially June 30, he will remain on hand to assist in the transition process for a brief time as his successor, Matt Memoli - who has been appointed the interim AD - settles in, Simon said.
There's a lot about the role as athletic director that he will reflect on with a smile.
"I enjoy being at the games, I enjoy being with the coaches and the student-athletes. I enjoy watching the kids compete," said Simon, who raves about his coaching staff and the Newtown High sports community on the whole.
"I won't miss 16-hour days over, and over, and over again," said Simon, adding that having spent so many years doing this work has caught up to him.
"I love being the athletic director. However, I'm out of gas. The job has worn me out and I want to try something different while I still feel like I'm young enough," said Simon, 56, adding that he'd consider another athletic director position in a smaller department closer to home if the opportunity presents itself. The Stratford resident's commute lengthened his work days, and something closer to home would be more appealing to him.
Simon said the average career of an athletic director at one school is five years; at 17 years, he was the third longest-tenured AD in the 14-school South-West Conference.
"It's just time," he added.
"We have a very large athletic program. We offer every sport CIAC offers," said Simon, who also ran Newtown High's Unified Sports program for student-athletes with special needs.
Newtown High has 48 combined freshman, JV, and varsity teams. The high school is also a host venue for South-West Conference and state tournament games - some involving, others not including, Newtown High teams.
Throughout his time, Simon arrived at NHS at start of the school day. Duties include a lot of behind-the-scenes work, such keeping up on field conditions, scheduling transportation to away games and practices off campus, scheduling officials, and lining up staff to run the scoreboard clock, and collect tickets, for example.
With afternoon and evening games and practices occupying time after the school day, his work days were, to say the least, long.
Lights went in at Blue & Gold Stadium in the middle 1990s, and the frequency of night games has increased throughout the years. Simon has been amenable to the requests of parents for night contests, understanding the importance of family members being able to get to more matchups, after work, to support their children.
"That changed the job - completely changed the job of being athletic director," Simon said of games being played under the lights.
Double- and triple-checking the weather, and that buses, officials, and staff and security are set up for game days is part of the routine for the athletic director.
"I constantly have eight or nine balls in the air and I can't let one hit the ground," Simon said.
Simon embraces the changes, including use of Twitter to share results. Newtown High's athletic department's twitter account has 2,600-plus followers, and it's a great way for alumni to keep up on what the teams are doing, Simon notes.
"When I first started, the job was archaic compared to where it is now," Simon said.
A lot has changed on the NHS campus since Simon became athletic director.
Renovation of the back fields at Newtown High took place in 2004, and a handful of years ago Blue & Gold Stadium's track and field underwent a renovation, and the new gymnasium was built.
"When I arrived our facilities were in horrible shape," he said.
Simon describes the old football field as being a "50-by-50-foot rock patch," and said a huge hill in the back limited practice space. The old football goal posts were made of telephone poles put up by a parent.
The Newtown Parks & Recreation Department took over maintenance of the fields and added irrigation systems. Donations from individuals in town have helped bring in a press box at the baseball field, and dugouts and scoreboards at both the baseball and softball fields.
The Blue & Gold Stadium, although in great shape after being redone with grass, was not as serviceable prior to a handful of years ago when artificial turf was put in. Turf can withstand more use, Simon notes.
He'll miss being at the games, especially during the fall. Opposing team members getting off their bus in the parking lot at the top of the stadium have always reacted positively to the setting at the tree-lined Blue & Gold Stadium.
"I love being out there in the fall when the trees all change," Simon said.
Although the implementation of turf allows for more games to take place after rain, weather has always complicated things.
It can be counted on for snow to postpone activities every winter, but there have also been some bizarre fall storms, including the Halloween snowstorm in 2011 that put a crimp in the South-West Conference playoff schedule.
"I'm very proud of the fact we declared champions in every sport that year," said Simon, noting that SWC schools got creative and played on Sundays and shifted games to different venues, to get them in before the start of the state playoffs.
In addition to his role as athletic director, Simon has worn many hats with the SWC, including chairing the boys' lacrosse and girls' soccer committees, as well as serving on the conference's Athletic Executive Board and Athletic Director's Administrative Committee. He served as the SWC's league representative on the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors (CAAD) Executive Board for six years.
Newtown High teams that have been added during Simon's tenure are ice hockey, gymnastics, boys' volleyball, and girls' golf, and dance has gone from an activity to a varsity sport. The unified sports program has also been put in place under Simon's watch.
"The growth of the athletic department has been tremendous," Simon said.
More athletes are striving to compete in college these days than when he first took on the job. "It's been a big change. It wasn't like that 10-12 years ago," Simon said.
Simon has worked with Newtown Parks & Recreation for use of playing surfaces off the NHS campus, including at Treadwell Park and Fairfield Hills, and speaks very highly of the Parks & Rec staff.
"We have the best parks and recreation department in the state of Connecticut, unquestionably," Simon said.
He also takes pride in the athletic department's relationship with the school's music department, noting that the two groups share use of the stadium.
"I've also been blessed with having the best coaching staff in the state of Connecticut," Simon said. "This town has been so lucky to have coaches who have remained in the program for so long."
In many instances, coaches have held their positions for a decade or more. There have only been two football coaches, and Tom Czaplinski and Brian Neumeyer, who coach girls' volleyball and boys' soccer, respectively, have been the only coaches in those sports at Newtown High since Simon took over.
"That's just not common," Simon said. "I think our coaches enjoy the student-athletes of Newtown High."
Although there haven't been many changes in the coaching staff, Simon takes pride in having worked to get Newtown's teachers to serve as coaches. He notes that more than 60 percent of Newtown's varsity coaches are also teachers.
"I feel very, very strongly in education-based athletics," Simon said. "Athletics are basically an extension of the school day."
Simon is proud of the Newtown High's athletes for how involved they are volunteering outside of sports.
"We made it a priority for our student-athletes to be involved in the community and give back to this wonderful town," Simon said.
Simon attributes much of the success of the athletic department to the work a core of key people, in addition to all of the coaches. Among them is Associate Athletic Director Carl Strait.
"The two of us have been a team in running this athletic department from the beginning. I could not have done it without him," Simon said.
Athletic Trainer Sabrina Byrne has been another key cog in the athletic department during Simon's tenure.
"Sabrina's been able to really create a wonderful environment in the athletic trainer's room for our student-athletes," he said.
Jason "J" Edwards serves as public address announcer for the Nighthawks, and is another important figure in NHS athletics with whom Simon had a strong working relationship.
"He is so talented as the voice of Newtown High School," Simon said.
Jen Huettner, who runs the scoreboard at home games "brings professionalism to the athletic department," Simon adds.
"He was good at his job. His heart was in it," said John Corcoran, a security guard at NHS, whose daughter, Grace, plays soccer and runs track at the school.
"He has a relentless work ethic," said Steve George, coach of the NHS football team, adding that the amount of growth in the program under Simon's watch is significant. "He has a very keen ability to prepare coaches and players to play at the highest level of competition."
Memoli, who has been Newtown High's baseball coach for seven years, was hired right out of college at the age of 22, and describes Simon as a "father figure within the school."
"I'm sad to lose somebody who cared so much about sports in Newtown," Memoli adds.
Memoli said there is no replacing Simon, but that he intends to step in and do what he can for the benefit of the student-athletes and coaches.
"It's definitely the biggest challenge I've ever had in my life and I can't be more excited about it. I'm pumped," Memoli said.
Simon recognizes that he would not have been able to do his job so well if not for the support of his family - his wife Colleen of 32 years, and their daughters Caitlin, Meagan, and Rebecca.
"I've been blessed to have a wife who understands what I do for a living," said Simon. "I missed a lot of events at my house and my kids always supported what I did."
A 1977 graduate of Stratford High, where he was a standout tennis player, Simon continued his education at Central Connecticut State College where he earned his bachelor's degree in social studies in 1981. He earned his master's degree from Sacred Heart University. He began his teaching career at St Ambrose School in Bridgeport, during which time he served as an assistant baseball coach at Stratford High.
Simon accepted a teaching position at Newtown Middle School in 1986, and established and coached the baseball program at the middle school.
"It was a great place to be - a great experience," said Simon, who was twice named Newtown Middle School's Teacher of the Year.
His relationship with NHS athletics began before becoming the AD. Simon coached NHS girls' basketball from 1992 to 2003. He also coached the freshman boys' basketball team at NHS for eight years. Simon worked on game days, collecting tickets and fulfilling other responsibilities before becoming the athletic director.
Since assuming the AD position, Simon has seen numerous Newtown teams win league and state championships; the Nighthawks have won more than 70 SWC championships in 21 different sports during his tenure. The NHS athletic department was also awarded a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Michael's Cup Exemplary Athletic Department Award for the 2013-2014 school year. CAAD presented the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association's State Award of Merit to Simon in 2013. The award is presented annually to an association member in recognition of meritorious service, leadership, and special contributions to interscholastic athletics at the local and state levels.