Mike Lunney isn’t a fresh face on the scene with the R.I. Interscholastic League. This coming August, he will have a new title that in essence will make him the public face of the organization.
After holding the rank of Assistant Executive Director for the past nine years, Lunney will succeed Tom Mezzanotte as RIIL Executive Director. Lunney was nominated and unanimously approved (17-0) during a special meeting of the RIIL Principals’ Committee on Athletics on Feb. 26.
Recently, YurView caught up with Lunney for an in-depth Q&A session that addressed the passion he has his for his current post and what the future may hold upon swapping out “assistant”:
Brendan McGair: You were a basketball coach and athletic director at Portsmouth High School prior to taking a position with the Interscholastic League in 2011. What were some of the factors you took under advisement when you decided to apply for the position of Assistant Executive Director?
Mike Lunney: I had been involved with the league for a long time and was just at a point in my professional life where I felt it would be a good step forward to serve the organization and carry on some of the things I was already doing at a state-wide level. I enjoyed Portsmouth High School and everything I was doing there. That’s where the conflict was in my mind. I said let’s give it a shot and see what happens. There weren’t any guarantees I would get the job.
BM: How much did coaching and serving as an AD as well as on the R.I. Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association help to prepare you for what was to come upon joining RIIL?
ML: I say this a lot. All of those things helped my knowledge in terms of the structure of the organization when I got to the [RIIL] office, but it wasn’t entirely what I thought it would be. There were a lot of other parts of the job that I had to learn, but the relationships I built and the network of people that I was used to dealing with, obviously that helped with the transition.
BM: What’s your favorite part of your current job?
ML: Obviously, it’s the opportunity we are able to provide kids participation-wise. To compete and create memories, that’s what keeps us going as an organization. That’s what makes [the coronavirus pandemic] so tough because it’s taking kids away from what they love to do.
BM: Removing COVID-19 from the equation, what’s the toughest part of the job?
ML: The perception of what our league is … obviously when you’re in a competitive environment and trying to get coaches and administrators on the same page and pulling in the same direction, sometimes it can be frustrating. Everyone who works in the league office has the perspective of the high school athletic world through the eyes of everyone. When you’re entrenched in your own school, you only see what’s in front of you. Trying to keep perspective has been the biggest challenge of what we’re really doing this for. When you strip it back and get everyone on the same page, things go much better.
BM: How much is it a rush for you to sit there during a state championship game or match and afterwards stand out there for the medal ceremony as one team celebrates while the other laments defeat?
ML: I’ve been blessed to have been involved as a participant and as a coach, but the role I’m in now, you see the culmination of a lot of hard work when you get to that level. It’s not lost on me how much time goes into reaching that moment, but I also have strong feelings for the kids who got to that point and don’t win. As much as I’m happy for the team that wins, I also feel for the team that didn’t get it done.
BM: Professionally and personally, what has Tom Mezzanotte meant to you?
ML: I really can’t express how great of an impact Tom has made in the growth of the RIIL. His passion for school-based interscholastic sports is unmatched anywhere in our country. I have been blessed to work alongside such an outstanding advocate for student-athletes in our state and I’m very proud of the many accomplishments we were able to achieve under his leadership. Tom has been a mentor and a friend. I’ll forever be grateful for the time we were able to spend together.
BM: What are some of the issues you see forthcoming upon becoming the RIIL’s next Executive Director?
ML: The association is in a good place, but there are always new challenges that come down the road. I see some potential issues, particularly with what’s going on at the youth level. We’ve been studying this for a while and the proliferation of travel teams and pay-to-play has really impacted the youth levels to the point where kids aren’t participating at the same level as they once did. When that starts to trickle up to the high school level … we’re starting to see a reduction as far as the number of JV sports out there. We tend to talk about the elite athletes in our state and the very successful programs that are out there, but the heart and soul of what we do is all about participation. We want our high school athletes to learn from their experiences. I do think we have a lot of work to do in that area to get the focus back on what our mission really is and that’s participation and opportunity.