If anything, the first month as Branford High School’s full-time athletic director was a unique experience for Tom Ermini. Trying to manage a new job during a pandemic is not something one normally deals with.
“It’s been a hectic first month trying to organize plans that can change so quickly at a moment’s notice,” Ermini said. “It’s hard to give out plans when everything has a chance to turn or change very quickly because of the pandemic.”
Ermini took over at the beginning of November. The abbreviated fall sports’ regular season wrapped up in less than two weeks. The winter season has been postponed until Jan. 19 at the earliest.
So with fall sports ending early — there are no Thanksgiving Day or CIAC playoff football games this year — and an uncertain winter ahead, no, it was definitely not an ordinary first month for Ermini.
Welcome to high school athletics during COVID-19.
“I feel like everyone has been able to be flexible and supportive,” Ermini said. “I’ve had a really supportive group around me to help with the transition.”
Ermini has succeeded Jake Palluzzi and Savas Synodi, who shared the athletic director duties on a stipend basis for nearly three decades. The Branford administration decided last spring to go to a full-time model for this school year.
Ermini, a 36-year-old North Haven resident, was the athletic director at Francis Walsh Intermediate School before moving to the high school.
“It’s not the athletic program that existed in the 1970s. It has grown over the years,” Synodi said. “There are so many new demands and expectations. Tom is certainly prepared for it and I think he will do well. He is very organized, which is a big part of it.”
Synodi and Palluzzi, the former longtime boys basketball coach at the school, are longtime physical education teachers who also teach CPR and First Aid to both coaches and students.
A Newtown High and Southern Connecticut State University graduate, Ermini started as the middle school wrestling coach at Walsh. He did part of his student-teaching at Branford High with physical education teachers like Synodi and Palluzzi.
“He is full of energy and has a great rapport with the kids. Tom is always looking to help out and do what he can,” Palluzzi said. “He is a people person, gets along with anybody. He has a great demeanor on how to handle people. He is full of energy and has a positive outlook on things.”
Having Palluzzi and Synodi in the building has helped the transition process.
“I’m very lucky to have their support and what they have been able to pass along through their time here. They are always available,” Ermini said. “What I learned already is you have to pace yourself. Both Jake and Sav have told me from the start that it can become overwhelming. There are so many responsibilities that need your attention, you have to be able to slow your pace down and priortize those tasks.”
Both Palluzzi and Synodi said it is no longer a one-person job anymore. One of the biggest adjustments is dealing with a full season of sports, including the ones at night during the winter season.
“A big part of it is having events and the things that go along with that,” Palluzzi said.
But none of that will happen until it is deemed safe by the state to proceed.
“Right now, obviously our top priority is the students’ safety,” Ermini said. “We want to have our students remain engaged. I feel very strongly about education-based athletics, which support student engagement. It’s important to have those opportunities whenever they can be safely implemented.”