There are road maps, then there’s the route that Tom Marcello followed on his way to becoming second in command in the R.I. Interscholastic League office.
From competing in multiple sports during high school, to coaching, to performing the role of athletic director and working closely with the league through several different committees, Marcello checked off several important boxes upon taking over as RIIL Assistant Executive Director this past summer.
Recently, I caught up with the 44-year-old Marcello for an in-depth Q&A session that both retraced his path to landing a job that you might say represents his true calling, and reflected on the recently-completed fall sports season that took place with the threat of COVID-19 seemingly lurking around every corner:
Brendan McGair: Looking back on your days as a youngster, how important a role did sports play in building a strong foundation?
Tom Marcello: When I was young, I played hockey and baseball. In high school [at Bishop Hendricken, Class of 1995], I wasn’t quite good enough to make the varsity hockey or baseball teams. I had a great coach and mentor in Mike Quigley. I had him for a few classes and when I got cut from the baseball team, he said come out for track. I did very well and ended up competing on the track team at URI where I became a captain and set a school record in the javelin.
I never played football until my junior year of high school. It’s a sport that’s played a huge role in my life. Football along with track … there were people who saw things in me that I didn’t even see in myself at the time. Those two sports have helped frame what I’ve done over the past 30 years.
BM: As a voting member of the Principals’ Committee on Athletics and past president of the R.I. Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, you saw the inner workings of the RIIL and how the league goes about its primary mission of affording opportunities to student-athletes. Reflecting back, how did these particular endeavors prepare you for what was to come upon joining the league in a fulltime capacity?
TM: It gives me a unique perspective to the point where I feel I have a good understanding of how the league works. Whether it’s been as a coach, a classroom teacher, or athletic director [at Ponaganset High School, where Marcello performed all three roles during his 18-year tenure with the Chieftains], I always go back to when I was in high school and college and ask myself what I needed from the mentors I had.
It wasn’t always smiles. Sometimes you got the carrot. Sometimes you got the stick. But people always had my best interest in mind and that’s what I’ve tried to bring to everything I’ve done through education – where student-athletes need to get to in order to become productive members of society.
BM: Upon hearing the news that Mike Lunney had been appointed to succeed Tom Mezzanotte as RIIL Executive Director, how quickly did you warm up to the possibility of throwing your name into the hat for the assistant league position that Mike previously held and you eventually landed?
TM: I thought it would have been a natural progression for me. You don’t get many opportunities like this. I believe I’m the third assistant executive director [in RIIL history]. Accepting a position in the middle of a pandemic is never easy, but in the back of my mind, I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave Ponaganset high and dry.
This was the next step for me. I can see myself bettering the lives of students, coaches, athletic directors, principals, and superintendents for the next 25 years.
BM: I assume there was no easing in to your current position, given the ongoing crisis and the uncertainty whether or not high school sports would be able to get off the ground this fall. Upon joining the RIIL, was it simply the case of hitting the ground running and not looking back?
TM: It was like jumping out of a plane and putting the treadmill on max speed. There was no honeymoon period. Like we alluded to before, having a good understanding of what this organization is about allowed me to walk in and be ready to go on Day 1.
I’ve always taken pride in working through problems and also solving them. Getting to come in [this past July] before I was officially appointed and sit in the room [with Mezzanotte and Lunney] when things were so crazy … it gave me a good base of what my role was going to be.
To have Mike in that head seat and being able to lean on him … he’s someone who’s done my job. Hopefully things will change when we get back to normal, but for this year, we’ve (been) doing so many things collaboratively because it’s been a crazy time.
BM: It wasn’t the smoothest fall 2020 season, but the finish line was reached and champions were crowned in cross-country, soccer, field hockey, and girls tennis. At the end of the day, how satisfying is that?
TM: Fall sports were supposed to start on August 17. If you were going to tell me that we were going to be able to finish out the year and have success in the sports we ran, we would have signed up for that in a heartbeat. It’s important to note that we had roughly 6,000 kids participate this fall. We had 61 positive cases. That is a tremendous signal of the hard work and dedication that so many people put towards mitigating the spread within our education-based programs.