This summer has been unlike any other in over three decades for Tracy Nichols. No forms to fill out. No worrying about whether the construction of a new football field will be ready on time. No necessary trips from his Shelton home to a small office adjoining the boys locker room at Trinity Catholic.
Nichols stepped down as athletic director in June. Nichols has said the reason is changes by the new administration that made it impossible for him to do the job anymore.
What Nichols didn’t say, and the unfortunate part, is after making his decision, Trinity’s principal of one year resigned and will be leaving the school later this month.
What is certain is that the athletic department at the school will never be the same. This is by no means a knock on Bobby Robustelli, who was hired as the replacement, or any of the other candidates who applied. No one knows the ins and outs of the job better than Nichols. After 34 years at the helm, who possibly could? He is as much a part of the Trinity fabric as anyone, and while he will remain as the baseball coach and assume a regular teaching load, he admittedly said it will take a while before he knows how large the void will be.
“It is probably a question I can’t answer until I’ve gone through the school year,” Nichols said. “Certainly I will miss being around the kids, but I’ll be around the kids even more with teaching classes. I’ll miss the camaraderie of the other athletic directors and your coaches, game officials. I certainly don’t have sleepless nights because of it.”
Nichols is trying to take a glass-half-full view of his new status.
“Thirty-four years is an awfully long time to do the job,” Nichols said. “Thirty-four years of a minimum of 45-50 nights out every winter, between hockey, boys basketball and girls basketball. There are certainly things you won’t miss having to do. When I teach I enjoy teaching. Teaching a full load is a different story. I think I certainly put my time in as AD and gave the school a bang for their buck for doing it.”
That is an understatement. Unlike other schools with larger athletic departments and bigger budgets, Nichols was a one-man show. If you showed up early on fall Saturday mornings, Nichols was in his golf cart making sure the football field was in order, doing everything including putting out the yard markers. He was the administrative version of a long-time mom and pop store.
Nichols has always operated with one self-imposed mandate.
“My whole philosophy from the first day was to make it as easy for the coaches to coach and the players to play as possible,” Nichols said. “Let me take care of all the periphery stuff. I think that’s what you need to do.”
It will take until the first few weeks of the school year for Trinity to realize what it has lost, as Robustelli, a graduate of the school, gets up to speed on the many nuances of his new position. At the same time, the guess here is that Nichols is initially going to have a rough transition. Nichols received a very modest stipend to serve as athletic director, and over the years, including not too long ago, had offers from public schools. Each time Nichols followed his heart, and was part of a number of coaches and teachers who have dedicated their lives to Trinity at the expense of sizable salary bumps.
“It’s a great school, it has almost been a family type school,” Nichols explained. “I have never seen a school that would bond together when there was a small or large tragedy. So many wonderful people who have been associated with that school over the years. It is just amazing to see them bond together when something bad happens. It makes it hard to want to leave. If you are going to leave it is because of a financial windfall. I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I couldn’t do it. You have to work hard, you have to have great organizational skills at a place like ours because you have to do so much and it is hard to leave. It is pretty easy not to pursue other jobs. I can understand younger teachers wanting to get into a public school because of the pay.”
“It’s a great school, it has almost been a family type school. I have never seen a school that would bond together when there was a small or large tragedy. So many wonderful people who have been associated with that school over the years. It is just amazing to see them bond together when something bad happens. It makes it hard to want to leave.”
Nichols has played an active role on the FCIAC board, serving as a past president. He remains on the advisory committee and hopes to stay involved in that capacity.
“It still boils down to the other ADs you have to work with, and the ones in the FCIAC for the most part are as professional and as good at what they do as anybody,” Nichols said.
For a school that has had the smallest enrollment in the league, Nichols said he has taken tremendous pride in the many league and state titles during his tenure, especially on the basketball court. Yet he was seldom anywhere to be seen following the wins, always ceding the spotlight.
“It means an awfully lot to see teams having success, but sometimes it means just as much to see a team overachieve also,” Nichols said. “From a coaching standpoint I’ve had teams that had a lot of success that you didn’t have as much fun coaching as a team that wasn’t as successful but you just had so much fun coaching. We’ve won nearly 30 state championships since I’ve been there and almost the same amount of FCIAC championships. When you are doing it at a school our size and you are doing it against some gigantic schools, what I still call the toughest league in the state, it is very much a great pleasure to see. Then you get the individual player, the great tennis player or golfer, which is also satisfying.”
Nichols has been as professional and able in his job as any athletic director I have worked with in over three decades covering the league. He has been a good sounding board when working on stories. Like the coaches under his command, I will miss being the subject of his biting sarcasm, always a telling sign about how he really feels about you.
As much as Trinity is going to miss Nichols, he is going to miss the job equally. If not he would have left for what others would consider greener pastures long ago.
But like the football field being replaced, Trinity Catholic was always green enough for Nichols.