Over the past six months, the South Orangetown Central School District has embarked on an ambitious transformation of its athletics program led by Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics Bill Pilla, who joined the district in July 2019. “We’re looking to build a highly competitive, top-tier program here,” says Pilla. His approach is focused on five key areas:
1. Provide an exceptional student-athlete experience focused on the “whole child.” In November, the Athletics Department and Tappan Zee High School Counseling Department hosted the school’s first NCAA Eligibility Night to educate student-athletes and their families about the recruiting and eligibility process. “It’s much different from what people think,” Pilla emphasizes. “If students have aspirations to play at the Division I or Division II level, they need to talk with their counselors to make sure that they’re taking the coursework that meet NCAA eligibility criteria.” Also on his agenda: A Middle School Athletics Information Night in late spring for students and their families to learn more about intramural and interscholastic programs.
Pilla believes that the future of high school athletics will look more like college-level programs, with more positions to enhance program and vital supports for athletes and coaches. With this in mind, he is exploring grant opportunities to support a stipend for a social emotional learning coach for interscholastic athletes and coaches. Pilla will also be advocating for new stipended positions for a strength and conditioning coach and middle school athletic coordinator.
2. Amplify the voice of student-athletes. Pilla launched a seasonal Student-Athlete Advisory Council in the fall to create a forum for athletes to share what’s happening during the season. Coaches select two player representatives–one senior and one underclassman–per team to serve on the Council, which meets with Pilla bi-weekly. “It’s opportunity for our athletes to make requests from this department and the District and to make recommendations for things that can be done to enhance our program and athletes’ experience,” says Pilla. Suggestions from the fall Council included consolidation of the three seasonal sports banquets into a single, year-end dinner geared toward honoring seniors.
3. Create a coaching culture invested in continual development of professional practice. Beyond ensuring that the District’s entire coaching staff is up-to-date with required New York State credentials, Pilla encourages coaches to participate in conferences and network with peers. Coaches have attended or are headed to the 2019 US All-Star Track and Field and Cross Country Clinic, the 2020 World Baseball & Softball Coaches’ Convention and the 2020 Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association Convention. Boys Varsity Lacrosse Coaches Andrew McIntosh, Pete Henninger and Brian Murray recently participated in and presented “Intentional Drills for Game Planning and Player Development” at the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Annual Convention. “It’s the best way to enhance our program,” Pilla explains. “Learning from others helps coaches up their game and their knowledge and return with ideas and renewed energy.”
4. Ensure equity program-wide. Taking a close look at interscholastic and intramural athletics to enhance access to benefits and opportunities for all students has also been a key component of Pilla’s agenda. He has implemented a new program-wide system to track when teams received their last district-issued uniform so that uniform replacement is equitable for all teams and is restructuring the intramural program to align more closely to the interscholastic program.
“This will help us accomplish three things: Increase numbers for programs that are struggling, build interest for interscholastic programs not currently offered, and to provide pre-season preparation before tryouts so that students can self-assess their ability and see whether this sport is something they want to venture into,” Pilla explains. “We want to make sure that all students have the opportunity to be ready for tryouts, not just those whose families are able to afford off-season training.”
5. Advocate for facilities and technology upgrades. Strong community support has been vital to securing recent capital upgrades to the TZHS multipurpose field and gymnasiums, and planned Summer 2020 replacement of the multipurpose field bleachers and press box.
Since his arrival last summer, Pilla has been working closely with Director of Facilities Jack Rallo and Director of Technology George Brady to identify other necessary capital work and to elevate sports technology, from installing a new multipurpose field scoreboard to repairing swim timing equipment to launching a partnership with LocalLive to broadcast games from the TZHS main gym and multipurpose field. “We’ve also ‘blinged-up’ Hudl, software that breaks down game film for coaches and student-athletes to analyze for strategy. LocalLive video can be sent to Hudl to enhance footage and for student-athletes to create highlight videos,” he says. “Our football, basketball, lacrosse and ice hockey teams are currently using it, and we’re looking at possibly expanding it for volleyball next year.”
With security in mind, Pilla and Director of Safety, Security and Compliance John Gulino have collaborated on making sure that the gymnasiums and fields are safe for student-athletes and spectators.
“I am inspired by Mr. Pilla’s work and the work of our coaches, who know that the value of interscholastic sports cannot be simply measured by the statistics in the ‘win-loss’ column. Personal dignity, honor, best effort, commitment to our team, and respect for other players are all values that transcend the game,” said Superintendent of Schools Robert Pritchard. “The shifts that are underway are an exciting start to raising our District’s athletics program to the next level.”