IMHO: New ADs, New Colors

  • Hartford coach Mike Stone directs his players during practice on Thursday. Valley News - James M. Patterson

  • Administrative assistant Linda Johnson jokes with Principal Jeff Moreno before pinning on his boutonniere before the eighth-grade graduation at Hartland Elementary in Hartland, Vt., on June 16, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It’s going to be weird seeing Mike Stone in maroon and gold.

Even though it’s been more than two years since the longtime football coach and physical education teacher divorced himself from his Hartford High alma mater, I still think of him in Hurricane colors. Within days, however, he’ll be taking over as Lebanon High’s new athletic director.

A young man Stone once coached on the football field at Hartford, Jeff Moreno, is assuming the AD’s role at Hartford. Although he spent his early professional career at the South Royalton School, Moreno has remained a Hurricane throughout.

Clearly, some perceptions are going to have to change.

To their credit, Hartford and Lebanon made excellent choices. That both moves came about without the circus that sometimes has accompanied such change is also of note.

For perspective, go back three years to Lebanon’s embarrassing first attempt to replace departed AD Kelley Carey. The Lebanon School Board had a capable candidate in Sharon Elementary School principal Barrett Williams, yet when it came time to confirm the hire, four board members shot it down … over politics.

The lack of School Board representation on the search committee was a serious enough sin to void the selection, the gang of four said. Endorsing Williams would be tantamount to endorsing the system that produced the selection, they said. In a 4-4 tie vote, they nixed the nomination and put an innocent person’s career on hold.

Lebanon eventually found Zac Stevenson, who did a lot of good things in his 2½ years on the job. The district has since adjusted job search procedures, adding a school board member to its search committees; this time around, it resulted in a smooth transition to a new AD and gained one of Stone’s quality.

In 28 years as a high school football coach, Stone made Hartford High a model in Vermont. His Hurricane teams won 10 state titles and made 13 championship game appearances. He sent numerous athletes, including his sons, to college programs, and not just in football. He gained the respect and admiration of his peers throughout the state. When he left Hartford in 2014 to become an assistant football coach at another alma mater, Norwich University, some wondered why he hadn’t joined the college ranks sooner.

Stone, 57, won’t coach at Lebanon, but he will bring other abilities to his new post. He has a demonstrated desire to help kids better themselves, either through sports or by way of the lifelong lessons that a commitment to physical fitness provides. He’s an inspired choice.

The Lebanon School Board still has work to do, however. There’s no justifiable reason why the AD’s job can’t be adjusted to allow for that person to coach a sport, at least on a one-year trial. Hanover High’s Mike Jackson did it for 25 years. Yet the topic never gets traction because of some Lebanon School Board members’ preconceived notions.

According to Valley News staff writer Jared Pendak’s account, board member Wendy Hall tried to start the AD-coach debate in the week leading to Stone’s hire, but parliamentary maneuvering stalled her efforts. Enough already, Lebanon; at least give yourself the opportunity of a discussion.

As happy as I am to see Stone’s return to high school sports, I’m equally pleased that Moreno, 39, is back in athletics as well, at least as part of his responsibilities as a Hartford High vice principal. It’s a homecoming for someone who never really left — Moreno spent 15 years at South Royalton as an AD and later a vice principal after his University of Vermont graduation in 1998. There are probably still people in SoRo banging their heads on the wall for letting Moreno leave to become the principal at Hartland Elementary School three years ago.

To cover a South Royalton sporting event during Moreno’s tenure was to know it would be run adeptly. Moreno made visitors feel welcome, referees feel comfortable and media members feel informed. (He could also entertain; I’m looking forward to him inserting slices of Led Zeppelin over the loudspeaker between innings of Hartford baseball games next spring.)

The Hartford School District gains a builder in Moreno, who followed his own collegiate track and field experiences at UVM by inaugurating the cross country and track programs at track-less SoRo. It’s significant that a track guy now holds Hartford’s AD reins after several years of failed attempts to get an oval built (among other athletics infrastructure projects) at the high school.

For a variety of reasons, Hartford has also seen a number of its veteran coaches — Stone among them — leave either the sidelines or the school altogether in recent years. Excellence in any program comes by keeping competent people over the long term. Moreno had some of those relationships at South Royalton; here’s to the hope that similar relationships grow or continue at Hartford.

Finally, choosing Moreno shows Hartford has leaders for its athletic future. It didn’t first appear as such when the school district cut former AD Joe James’ job as part of an effort to address a $1.1 million budget deficit a few months ago. Now, incoming principal Nelson Fogg and student supports coordinator Roy Hathorn — two former Hartford sports coaches — will assist in the department’s operation, but Moreno will be the point man.

As in Lebanon’s selection of Stone, that’s a good thing.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.