by Andrew Garda
While most of what Montclair High School Athletic Director P.J. Scarpello deals with on a day-to-day basis revolves around the 66 teams the high school fields, sometimes something different rears its head.
Over the first years of his tenure, Scarpello has seen the beginnings of alternative sports grow at the high school, specifically with the school’s ultimate frisbee team and the skateboarding club.
These are athletic activities that are not official school teams, which means they have no budget, but are still something Scarpello wants to continue to encourage.
“I promote all of that stuff,” he said during a recent interview. “It’s great for your body. It’s a physical activity, it’s fun and it’s keeping you involved in something other than the traditional school day, going home, doing homework, family, all that. Now you have something really fun, a hobby to pursue that keeps your body in good shape.”
The balance between supporting those teams while remaining focused on the many programs that are officially sanctioned by the school district is difficult.
“I have to keep in mind that my main responsibility here is to the 66 athletic teams and the Phys-Ed health department. But I also want to help a student-athlete grow their sport,” he said. “All the things that come across my desk are win-wins, and if I had an infinite amount of field space and hours in the day, I would love to say yes to everybody. The hardest part of my job is saying no because I couldn’t figure it out, or I knew I couldn’t allocate the time that the sport needed at that moment to walk it through the process.”
Even when he has to say no, Scarpello makes it clear that doesn’t have to be the end of it.
“At no point do I ever say no forever,” he said. “I say no for now, or maybe I tell them to go find more information and come back to me. Or that I can’t do this, but if you can go and find a space available, I’ll sign off on it. And sometimes that happens and that’s a beautiful thing when it does.”
In the case of ultimate frisbee, Scarpello said that’s basically what happened.
“My first year, this young man Donovan, who just graduated this year, came in,” he recalled. “He was so responsible, energetic, knowledgeable, understanding – he’s an amazing young man, he’s an amazing leader and will be with whatever he chooses to do. But I couldn’t give him a lot of space. What I did find them was time on Henningberg Field, and some time on half of the turf field. And I worked with [Donovan] on trying to set up a tournament. The students really did all the work. All I did was listen.”
Ultimate frisbee has been around MHS since 2014, though only began playing competitively in 2017. The interest from students is trending upwards, though, with rising numbers at MHS as well as a solid middle school program which had 40 kids this past year.
Like the skateboarding club, they are making their mark.
According to Scarpello, it was similar with the skateboarding club started up last year.
“One of the teachers here came up with the idea [for the club], and he did all the legwork,” Scarpello said. “All I did was kind of listen to him and help him find space.”
Scarpello was especially pleased with the momentum the skateboarding club has gained in just a year.
“It seems like it’s really growing. Interest in this past year of having a skate club is enough to where now they’re talking about building a skate park somewhere in Montclair,” he said. “What a great avenue for kids who don’t like a traditional sport. Kids really like to skateboard, now you’re off the street where you can get injured vehicle, you’re in a fenced in area designed for skateboarding.”
One thing Scarpello stresses to anyone who walks into his office with a request for help putting together a new sports club is planning for the long term.
“One of my first questions is [about] sustainability,” he explained. “When you graduate, who takes this over? Do you believe they’ll have the same interest that you have and do all the work you’re doing behind the scenes to keep this running.”
And that’s key because if a club can build off those early years, and show they will be around, Scarpello can do more to help.
“If it’s been three or four years and they’ve been continually having the same numbers or larger numbers, then I’m going to pay some serious attention.”
While he will do what he can for any club or sport that a student presents, his top priority is the teams already officially noticed and budgeted for by the school district and high school.
“I don’t control the budget, so I can’t say to them ‘Hey, I’ll give you a piece of my budget,’ because the budget I have is for the 66 athletic teams. I can’t add a team without adding more money to that budget.”