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Oxbow AD Steps Down

Thornton Takes Post At Mass. Prep School

Former Oxbow High athletic director Rich Thornton, right, watches a 2010 Olympians football practice with assistant coach Dan Kelly. Thornton resigned this week to take a position with a Massachusetts prep school. Valley News file photograph - Tris Wykes

Former Oxbow High athletic director Rich Thornton, right, watches a 2010 Olympians football practice with assistant coach Dan Kelly. Thornton resigned this week to take a position with a Massachusetts prep school. Valley News file photograph - Tris Wykes

For both personal and professional reasons, Rich Thornton’s tenure at Oxbow High School is over.

The 45-year-old former college basketball coach recently resigned after five years as Oxbow’s athletic director to become an assistant boys basketball coach and substitute teacher at Buckingham, Browne Nichols School in Cambridge, Mass. BB&N competes in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council.

BB&N is just 10 minutes from the home of Thornton’s fiancee, Judy McGrail, of Arlington, Mass.

“This is a great opportunity for me, to see what direction this goes,” said Thornton, who coached the Olympians’ boys basketball team during three of his five winters in Bradford, Vt. “I’ve always known that at some point, I wanted to return to the college game or to a prep school, and this was something I felt I needed to jump on if I wanted to get my foot in the door.

“Prep school coaching jobs right now are extremely competitive. They usually either go to assistants who are already coaching at prep schools or to college coaches who are tired of the grind. They want to coach somewhere where they can still coach a high caliber of athletes without all of the traveling and recruiting that comes with being a college coach.”

Led by Nick Papas, a 38-year high school coaching veteran and retired physical education teacher, the Knights tout an all-Independent School League, 6-foot-7 power forward in Nick Tarantino, but missed the Class A playoffs last year with a record of 12-13.

Thornton was Oxbow’s AD during when the Olympians won Vermont Division III state championships in girls basketball (2012) and softball (2013), plus as state final appearances in softball (2010), girls soccer (2011) and girls lacrosse (2012). In 2010, the nascent varsity football team clinched its first playoff berth, while the O’s track and field program has produced a number of individual state champions and steadily increased its numbers since Thornton’s arrival.

“I can’t take any of the credit for what the coaches at Oxbow have done. They’re the ones who have rallied kids to be excited and put forth their best effort,” Thornton said.

“But what I am proud of is that I think I helped clean up some of the (lack of) sportsmanship. When I got here, we didn’t have the best sportsmanship (reputation) either in the stands and on the field. From talking to other ADs around the state, they’ve said there’s a major difference. So that makes me proud, that we have student athletes who want to compete hard and win, but to do it the right way, with hard work and dedication.”

Thornton’s boys basketball teams went just 17-48 (.274) during his three seasons, but earned a pair of playoff wins. After coach Barry Emerson returned from a deployment overseas with the Vermont National Guard and coached in 2011-12, Thornton was back on the sidelines with high hopes last winter. Despite good size and experience in the front court, the Olympians shot poorly and finished 4-17.

“The effort was there most nights, but we just had a lot of trouble scoring,” Thornton said. “The problem is that we’re still working on our skill development in November, which puts us behind the eight-ball against programs who have kids playing AAU and playing the sport on their own, year round. ”

Thornton was the student manager for his high school team at Essex (Vt.) High School before aspiring to be a broadcast journalist. He interned with WCAX (Channel 3) while a student at Champlain Valley College, then earned a bachelors degree at now-defunct Trinity College in Burlington.

Thornton first got the coaching bug while an assistant for the girls basketball team at Milton (Vt.) High in the early 1990s, later accepting the varsity girls position at Harwood Union High in Moretown, Vt.

After graduating from Trinity in 1996, Thornton became the head golf coach and assistant women’s hoops coach at Adelphi University on Long Island, guiding the former to a New York Collegiate Athletic Conference title during his first season.

From there, Thornton ventured to SUNY-New Paltz, taking over a women’s basketball program that fielded just seven players and went 5-19 during his first year. He built it to a .500 record and a conference playoff appearance by his third season, he said.

After a one-year stop as a women’s assistant coach and recruitment coordinator at NCAA Division I St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., Thornton headed north for Bard College in the Hudson River Valley. He worked for Bard’s D-III men’s basketball program for three years under New Hampshire native Chris Wood.

From 2006-08, Thornton was a graduate student and assistant women’s basketball coach at Springfield (Mass.) College. He came to Oxbow in 2008, helping alleviate the co-AD duties of full-time teachers Brian Musty and Shawn French.

Thornton faced turmoil last fall when Musty, who coached three varsity girls sports for the Olympians, was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a former student. Musty was first put on paid leave, then fired, as Thornton scrambled to find replacement coaches in girls soccer, girls basketball and girls lacrosse.

“It was really a tragic situation, to have so much trust lost in the community,” Thornton said. “I’m just thankful it didn’t (directly) affect anyone currently at the school. But the community is moving forward and in the right direction.”

Oxbow principal Larry Walsh did not return a late message Thursday seeking possible candidates to replace Thornton, whose resignation was effective Aug. 1. Classes begin at Oxbow on Aug. 28.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

CLARIFICATION

This article has been amended for clarification. Former Oxbow High basketball coach Barry Emerson was unable to coach for a few seasons because he was deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan with the Vermont National Guard. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.