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Thetford’s Salls powering down from athletic director job

  • Bridget Dugan-Sullivan, Thetford Academy's assistant director of development, announces 1962 graduate Rita Brown DeGoosh's induction into the school's 1,000-point club during a school assembly in Thetford, Vt., on May 16, 2018. At left is Athletic Director Blendon Salls. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Jennifer Hauck

  • Blendon Salls on August 20, 2013. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Sarah Priestap

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2022 9:07:00 PM
Modified: 7/8/2022 9:06:55 PM

Blendon Salls was a familiar sight at Thetford Academy athletic events for the last six years. At baseball and softball games in particular, the athletic director would man the snack shack and hang number tiles on the manual scoreboard, among other tasks.

Such actions demonstrated Salls’s commitment to the student-athlete experience at Thetford, to be sure, but Salls viewed it mostly as an excuse to keep moving around.

“If there’s anything I can do during the games, I try to do it, partially because I’m a super-nervous person about athletics and competition,” Salls said.

“I usually am trying to pace or move around. I fool all of you by making it seem like I’m actually working. Really, I’m just pacing nervously around the fields, hoping everything’s going smoothly.”

In late June, Salls announced that he would be stepping down as Thetford’s AD, effective at the end of July, citing his desire to watch more of his three kids’ sporting events in Lebanon. A 2001 Lebanon High graduate, Salls played basketball for the Raiders under Kieth Matte, then attended the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord. He returned to his alma mater as the junior varsity boys basketball coach before taking the varsity job at Thetford in 2013.

After just one year in that position, Salls stepped back to spend more time caring for his baby daughter, but two years after that, he returned as the Panthers’ athletic director.

“It was really eye-opening,” Salls said. “I usually would sit with my coaches for 30 minutes or so after games and just shoot the breeze about the game. It was really nice to hear what they saw and why they were making the adjustments they made, and I was learning on the fly from them.

“The hard part for me was realizing teams were in good hands, and I could take a step back.”

Thetford’s teams won 15 state championships during Salls’s tenure. The girls soccer team, under co-head coaches Dave Williams and Jolene Cadwell, won three straight titles from 2017 to 2019 after losing in the championship game the year prior. Jason Gray’s boys basketball team went back-to-back in 2019 and 2020, while girls basketball, under the late legendary coach Eric Ward, took home the championship trophies in 2017 and 2019, sandwiched around a runner-up finish in 2018.

Each cross country team won a title, with the Panther boys coming out on top in 2018 and the girls doing so in 2021. But track and field is Thetford’s most dominant program right now, with both teams winning their third consecutive VPA Division III championship this spring.

Salls also helped expand the school’s athletic offerings, adding programs in golf and bass fishing, and hired new head coaches Ray Thorburn for boys soccer and Michelle Morgan for softball.

“Blendon has really led through the pandemic and leaned into those challenges,” Thetford head of school Carrie Brennan said. “In the summer of 2020, our summer athletics was a beta test for the start of the school year and coming back in person. It was really important leadership that he took.”

Last fall and winter, Salls took some time away from the job to take care of some family business, and dean of students Siobhan Lopez assumed the role of acting athletic director. Lopez said Salls made sure everything was set up for her during the transition period between seasons, and Salls returned to Thetford in January.

The school is currently in the midst of the search process for the new athletic director, whom Brennan said is expected to take over in mid-August. Salls, meanwhile, is still looking for his next job but plans to be more involved in the Lebanon community, where his kids, now ages 13, 8 and 6, are growing up.

“We’re looking for someone who can recognize that the main focus is athletics and activities but also can look at being an administrator and helping pay attention to the bigger picture and how things run,” Lopez said. “From hiring coaches, keeping track of uniforms and all the equipment, to getting transportation lined up, keeping parents informed, there’s a lot of details involved, so (we need) someone who can juggle a lot of balls at the same time.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.


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