A sporting chance – RPS makes a serious effort to boost athletic performance

When it comes to scores at the Revere High School (RHS) over the last few years, the most encouraging scores were not on the athletic fields, they were on the MCAS test.

With some exceptions, RHS teams have a long-standing reputation of underperforming on the playing fields, and this past summer Superintendent Paul Dakin said he wanted that to change. After having watched a stellar girls’ basketball season transpire, he said he wanted the new Athletic Director to have a vision for uniting the community with a winning sports program – something that has been missing for years.

“I have a rap that I don’t support the athletic program like I do the academic programs,” said Dakin, a former standout track coach at Savio Prep. “That’s absolutely wrong. With [former Athletic Director] Angelo Fantasia we made a direct attempt to re-tool the athletic program – a serious attempt…We’re going to try again.”

He found someone on the same page with new Athletic Director Shaun Hart, who said that he shares a goal with Dakin to unite the community with sports. Former Athletic Director Keith Correia – who stepped down last school year suddenly for personal reasons – was also headed in that direction.

Hart said he’s ready.

“There would be nothing greater for the City of Revere than to have a group of people interested in athletics coming together for athletics,” said Hart. “Academics have been first and athletics have been second for so long that we’ve forgotten some of that athletic prowess Revere had in the 1970s.”

Now, with the RHS football team off to a 3-2 start (and having lost the last two games by a combined two points in the last minutes), the idea of rallying the community around high school sports has unfolded quicker than expected.

During last year’s basketball season, the girl’s team packed the fieldhouse and took pretty good crowds on the road. By all accounts, the football team’s early successes – despite two heartbreaking losses in the last two weeks – have brought out more fans than many have seen in recent memory.

City Councillor Ira Novoselsky has been involved with the football program since the 1960s. Arguably, he has attended more RHS football games than anyone in the community. He said he notices more people at the games.

“Having been involved with RHS football since 1963, without a doubt this is the most exciting season in many years,” said Novoselsky.

The same can be said for tireless football booster Mickey ‘Say No to Drugs’ Casoli – who was one of the greatest running backs in RHS football history in his day.

“Everyone’s talking about this team; it’s exciting because they’re 3-2 and they came very close to being undefeated,” he said. “I light a candle for them every day.”

Hart said he’s seeing a lot of non-athlete students at the game, which he says is a great indication that sports are becoming part of the social fabric of the high school.

He also made a point to note that the boy’s soccer team is challenging for a league title, and that the girl’s soccer team has a winning record.

“What I’ve seen so far is I’ve seen fans come to the games at every level and every sport,” he said. “I’ve seen coaches rise to the occasion and tell kids that winning is not just about points, but about character and sportsmanship. I’ve seen a real sense of community where the kids that play athletics are supported equally by the kids that don’t play. That’s phenomenal.”

Hart said he tried to change the mindset of everyone when he came into the job, letting the coaches of all sports know that he is ready to support them in their decisions.

“I made it abundantly clear when I had my coaches meeting that there is an expectation of excellence and we are going to succeed at all levels,” he said. “We’re going to be a team together. We will build character and not tolerate insubordination on our teams.”

Dakin said the attendance increases are a good sign for what they’re trying to accomplish.

“I think the attendance at football games is the fruits of a very strong girls’ basketball team,” he said. “Basketball, hockey and football are the biggies. They draw people and bring community pride…Everyone loves a winner. They’re going to come out if the teams are winning.”

However, he also said that success in girls’ basketball and on the football field cannot be sustained without a good foundation – and that means cooperation and streamlining in the youth leagues.

With Fantasia a few years ago, the cooperation wasn’t there.

“The reality was that the community wasn’t ready for it,” said Dakin. “They didn’t want anything to do with us. They didn’t want high school coaches or high school athletic directors giving advice or offering suggestions about how they could provide a feeder program.”

Now, Dakin said that barriers had been broken in the last few years on that front, and he’s hoping there can be a new level of cooperation in all youth sports.

The Revere Pop Warner program has been one of the first converts. After having been one of the major resisters several years back, the Pop Warner program now participates in workshops with the high school coaches, has done Player of the Week promotions at high school games, and even has instituted some of the high school’s offensive plays into their playbooks.

President Rico Donati said since he became president four years ago, he is on board with the collaboration.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “Definitely count the Pop Warner in on that…Prior to my time, I would say 110 percent that no one was talking. I’ve been working nine years in Pop Warner and before this, they weren’t working together. Now, there’s been collaboration. I’m all for it. Coach [Cicatelli] is all for it. Hopefully we can get the ball rolling even more.”

The Pop Warner program has had unprecedented success over the last four years, and many of their former players are now key players on the high school team. They have also agreed to abide to more strict academic and behavioral standards.

“If we can bridge that gap between the high school and youth sports, the sports program at RHS will come together over time as it did with academics,” said Dakin. “If we don’t bridge that gap…then we won’t have success. The community has to make a decision on which way it wants to go. I think the community is ready now.”

The football team plays in Peabody this week, and then will come home for five straight home games to end the regular season. Many are waiting to see what kind of support will be generated from the community during that home stand – despite what happens this Friday.

“It comes back to this: if you’re a kid do you want to play for a program that isn’t supported by the community and where no one comes to see you play?” asked Dakin. “The tide started to change with the girls basketball team last year. The football team has generated some support with early successes. My fear is the typical Revere attitude will come back if they have a few losses and all this could backtrack. I’ve been around Revere for 58 years and I know the attitude.”

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