MIDDLETOWN >> New Middletown High School Director of Athletics and Activities Elisha DeJesus is aware that the job has its challenges, not the least of which is she was a controversial choice.
“I’m aware the vote was 5-4 [to hire her],” said the first female public school AD in the city’s history. “But that’s over. The way I’m going to approach the job is to build relationships, meet with coaches and make myself visible.
“What I want to do is build on the excellence Coach P [outgoing AD MIke Pitruzzello] built and I’ll be working with him, talking with coaches and observing. My mindset is to be patient, to look, to observe. I’m not going in just ready to go, although I am ready. I need to get to know everyone in the school and the district. But I’m ready for the challenge. “
DeJesus, 32, last worked at SAND School of Hartford, a K-8 school, as Dean of Students. She also worked at the Rawson Elementary School, another K-8 school, in Hartford and for the last two yeas has been basketball coach at the high school level at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy in Hartford.
She previously worked at Morristown Central School in upstate New York, a K-12 school at which she taught physical education, coached and was AD.
“I’ve worn many hats,” she said.
Why Middletown, clearly a significant step up in size and responsibility and what is her first full-time purely high school job in one of the state’s premier athletic conferences?
“It’s always been my desire to be an athletic director,” she said. “I going to run with it, but I’ll have great help with Coach P mentoring me and with Robin [Wilson, PE secretary].
“I had been in New York for five years, but I grew up in East Hartford and I wanted to come home. Jobs like this don’t pop up too often and when I saw the opening, my research made me really interested. This community really supports athletics and I know what sports did for me.
“As an AD. I want to continue to build on what’s happened here, that is to let kids know that we are there for them.”
DeJesus said that winning games was important, but added a caveat.
“Wins are important,” she said. “We want all our teams to be competitive at the state level. But winning isn’t the only thing. There are losses. Kids need to learn from losing. Also coaches need to know that are teaching student/athletes. They need to teach confidence in their kids, confidence so that when they go on the field or court, they feel they can win.
“That transfers to the classroom. Coach P put a great deal of emphasis on academics and I do, too. Developing the right attitude in sports carries over to right attitudes in the classroom.”
DeJesus said she was aware that MHS competes for students with the local Catholic high schools and the Magnet schools. She said that perhaps some don’t understand the good things in place at the city’s high school.
“I think people need to look at the history here,” she said. “Look at how much the community supports sports and the clubs and activities that exist here. That speaks volumes. They also need to look at how each year kids from Middletown High go to Ivy league schools and other top-notch colleges.
“This is also a great facility. Parents should want to send their students here. I want to continue to place priority on academics and to build winning programs. I applied here because it’s a great place to be.”
DeJesus came down in favor of the 40 percent tournament qualifying rule and for full board of education funding of all athletic programs.
“When I played basketball at East Hartford High, we qualified for the tournament with an 8-12 record,” she said. “But in our first game, we pulled a big upset over New Britain and that was a great feeling.
“I think the 40 percent rule gives underdogs a chance. I think it’s fun for the sport and for the fans. I also know that ice hockey is not fully funded by the board nor are the two lacrosse teams. I think that should happen.”
She went on to say that she believed feeder programs are very important for success at the high school level.
“I know we have programs at Wilson Middle and that the Park and Recreation people have great programs. But if there is a need for feeder programs at the lower levels for our kids to excel, I will absolutely fight for those. We must be building programs that are successful, not a one or two year team success.”
DeJesus also came out against pay-for-play.
“I am totally against having student/athletes and their parents paying extra to play sports,” she said. “Sport is an integral part of the educational process. Participation in those should not come out of the pockets of those who play.”
DeJesus said her vision for the high school athletic program is that she wants her coaches to excel and wants all the teams to be competitive at the state level.
“Our football team made it to the semifinals and everybody tells me they could have beaten Darien,” she said. “We want that success to continue and to win at the state championship level. It is very important that we have great quality coaches who place students first.
“It is also very important to me that we have scholar-athletes. This spring we had the highest number of scholar-athletes in any season [since MHS joined the Central Connecticut Conference]. Coach P had that and my vision is to continue that and build upon it.”
She said that she understood that not all sports have been as successful as others. Aside from girls soccer, many of the girls sports have been middle of the road, and some less than that.
The girls swim team was winless in 2013, the volleyball team has struggled in recent years, and while other girls teams have qualified for the state tournaments, generally the girls teams have not seen the same level of achievement as boys teams.
“Again, that’s an area where I will look at the feeder programs,” she said. “We need to look at how we’re engaging our youth in sports. It all starts at the younger levels. We will be looking to improve everywhere, in both girls and boys sports.
“I would like to see our baseball and softball teams, just for examples, to improve, too. I want to see improvement.”
DeJesus said she would lean on Pitruzzello — who will be working full time until Sept. 19 — and on longtime secretary Wilson, for help and guidance. But in the end, she’s the captain of the ship.
“We all should be motivated to excel,” she said.