by Andrew Garda
Summit High School doesn’t have lights for its football field.
Montclair townsfolk know what that’s like, as Woodman Field isn’t lighted.
But much like the Mounties try to do, Summit wants to put on a night game each season.
This past year, in his capacity as Summit athletic director, Patrick Scarpello arranged to have portable lights set up so the team could play at night.
One problem. The crew who was supposed to set up those lights backed out at the last minute.
So Montclair’s future athletic director went home, put on his gym clothes then spent six hours setting up lights for his football team.
Scarpello relays this not for a back pat or attaboy, but to show he’s perfectly willing to do the dirty work that can come with being an AD for a public high school.
“I don’t look at my job as being a shirt-tie guy,” he said as he sat in what will become his office when he starts at MHS on Jan. 22. “If something needs to be done, if a gym floor needs to be swept, if trash needs to be taken out, I’m the guy,” Scarpello said. “This job is all-encompassing and I think if people see that I’m willing to get my hands dirty, hopefully they will say, ‘Hey, we’re going to give this guy a shot.’”
Scarpello wants to earn the trust of his coaches through action. He wants them to know that when things go sideways, he has their back.
And he knows the best way to do that is by actually showing he has their back.
“If you could have seen what it did between the football coach and I, for our relationship, he was dumbfounded,” Scarpello recalled. “He couldn’t believe his athletic director did what a custodian should be doing.”
That shouldn’t be that hard for the new AD, who has a quiet energy that’s easy to respect and who is willing to work hard no matter the task.
“I tell people this isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “Because you’re here six, seven days a week. You’re here in the summers, at night and early in the morning. People say all the time, ‘What does your day look like?’ I say, ‘Which one?’ because any day can be different.”
That variety is part of what drew Scarpello to a career as an athletic director, sending him to graduate school and eventually to get his doctorate before landing his first full-time job in an athletic department.
“I was able to get a job in Hillsborough as an assistant athletic director,” he said. “Did that for two years, and I loved it.”
Scarpello had two kids though, and the hours were difficult on his family.
“In athletics you’re never home, working nights and weekends,” he said. “So I went for a vice principal job, got it and was fortunate to get it down in Keansburg.”
While Scarpello thought he could learn to live without the athletic aspects of his previous jobs, he missed it too much.
“I absolutely hated it six months in,” he said. “I hoped it would get better, maybe in a year or two, but I didn’t have the passion that I had for athletics. So I applied for the AD jobs, and was offered the Millburn job and then after that, Summit.”
Summit wasn’t what he had hoped, though.
“I just didn’t get the support I needed to be successful in the job,” he explained. “A lot of ADs will tell you that we’re the second most hated person in the district, and I found that to be true, behind the director of special services because either they are classifying your son or daughter and you don’t want them to be or you want your kid to be classified and they won’t do it. Typically when you say no to people, they don’t like that.”
Many public high schools share their facilities with town and private leagues and organizations and Summit is no different. Scarpello found himself caught in a difficult situation.
“When your priority is the high school, you have to say no to a lot of people,” he said. “If you don’t have the support of the principal, the superintendent and everyone else, I would argue that this job is impossible.”
Scarpello found that while he was serving the interests of the student-athletes at his school, he was also upsetting other members of the community.
“I was making decisions that met the philosophy of Summit athletics, but then there were situations where I just didn’t feel the support I wanted and that’s why I started looking.”
Scarpello had wanted a place to stay for the next 20 years, but it was clear Summit wasn’t that. A friend mentioned that Montclair was looking for an athletic director, and suggested he apply.
Naturally, Scarpello wanted to make sure Montclair would be a good fit. Everyone he asked about it said the same thing.
“They love their athletics here, support their athletics, have good athletics and that will be somewhere you want to be,” he said people told him. “And I knew the town of Montclair was a really vibrant town with Bloomfield Ave. and things to do, and being young with two kids, I would love to be around an area like this.”
The diversity and energy of the town was important, but Scarpello also needed to make sure he would be supported. After meeting Principal James Earle and Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, he was convinced.
“It seems like Mr. Earle, with his athletic background, understands the role of an AD,” Scarpello said. It was clear to him that he would have a principal who would support what needed to be done.
Which Scarpello feels is important, because he’s not going to hesitate to rattle some cages if need be to get things done.
“I’m not good with status quo and if I see something I think could be better, I’m going to go down that route,” Scarpello said. “People will say no but if we can do things that can make this a better experience for all the student-athletes in Montclair, I’m going to ask those questions. If that ruffles some feathers, so be it.”