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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Nashua High School South's new Athletic Director Tom Arria talks about his athletic experience Friday, July 1, 2010.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Nashua High School South's new Athletic Director Tom Arria looks over the athletic fields Friday, July 1, 2010.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Nashua High School South's new Athletic Director Tom Arria looks over the athletic fields Friday, July 1, 2010.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Nashua High School South's new Athletic Director Tom Arria looks over the athletic fields Friday, July 1, 2010.




  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Nashua High School South's new Athletic Director Tom Arria looks over the athletic fields Friday, July 1, 2010.




Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nashua AD Tom Arria left some fans, detractors in Dedham, Mass.

EDITORS NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part series about Nashua’s new athletic director Tom Arria.

The new athletic director, officially began his life in Nashua July 1.

With that in mind, the question is, what did former Dedham (Mass.) High School athletic director Tom Arria leave behind?

Seemingly a reputation as an innovator in some ways, and someone who fought the good uphill fight created by a lack of funds and smaller enrollment when compared to other schools in the two-division Bay State League. Someone who was under the gun from an administration pushing for change.

The picture painted by coaches and media reports of Dedham athletics was that it was a house divided, especially when there was a move to try to switch to a different league (Tri-Valley) for competitive and enrollment reasons.

“That was a difficult time for everybody,” longtime Dedham hockey coach Paul Podolski said. “There were a lot of diverse feelings. I think Tom handled that part of it great.

“I think when he came in, the new superintendent’s charge to Tom was to re-work the athletic department, go in a different direction, change the coaches up, and see if we could be a little more successful.”

That probably would have taken more time than the three years the 32-year-old Arria was in Dedham. During that time, Dedham won two girls soccer divisional (called the Herget Division) titles and one in girls ice hockey.

“I think he tried to hold coaches accountable as far as the performance of the kids on the field,” Podolski said. “Every population wants their teams to be successful. Tom tried to get our numbers up, get the off-season programs in step with the high school’s.”

Doe’s charge also reportedly involved a better link between the high school and youth programs, as well as with parents. And, of course, more fundraising, which Arria was said to excel at – something that could come into very positive play in Nashua as user fees have been instituted for the first time and a major sport, hockey, endured a death watch over the winter.

Arria held a Walk-a-Thon where student athletes would walk around the school track for a certain length of time to raise funds; he also started a school athletic store to help raise money for the athletic department as well.

“The athletic department was always lacking funds,” said boys basketball coach Ed Hickey, one of the coaches who was said to have enjoyed a close relationship with the AD. “We had a gym where the bleachers were on one side and it needed revamping. Tom got the donations for a new scoreboard and it changed the entire place. It allowed us to move to the other side of the gym, made a positive change for the gym.

“He was always looking for ways to improve athletics, the athletic department. I think he did the best he could for (the student athletes).”

Dedham is in the process of trying to improve its athletic facilities and Arria, one coach said, “was very active in that.”

Of course, the people most immediately impacted by a new athletic director are the coaches, as Arria will be their new boss. Sources say many Nashua coaches were comfortable working with interim athletic director Scott Insinga – who is expected to return to his assistant AD position – and were caught off guard when Arria was named as Peter Casey’s permanent successor last month.

But perhaps Arria will calm anyone’s potential fears.

“I think I forged a lot of positive relationships with a lot of the coaches on (the Dedham) staff,” Arria told The Dedham Transcript last month after it was announced he had taken the Nashua job. “I think I forged a lot of good relationships with a lot of parents in the community. I think there’s a lot of people that respected my decision making and I think I had an impact on the community. I believe I had a positive impact on the community.”

The community seemingly was ready to change its athletic fortunes, leading to all sorts of controversial decisions. The student body in Dedham was on the whole dead set against any potential move to the Tri-Valley League, and that more or less influenced the school committee’s 5-2 vote against. Basically Arria was hailed for the job he did in providing all the pros and cons and other pertinent information for the move.

“He tried to do what was best for everybody in that situation,” Hickey said.

Indeed, as Dedham looks for his successor, what Arria was charged with doing would have taken much longer than three years time. It took almost that long for people to become familiar with his style and his methods – and to buy into his goals, or not.

“Tom had the feeling when he came in that he was under the microscope and he had to make changes,” Podolski said. “Usually when you make changes, you’re going to encounter some resistance.”

Sometimes he encountered it from former Dedham wrestling coach Jim Maher, who was told by Arria in May his contract would not be renewed. Maher felt that was part of an effort to remove coaches who didn’t teach in the system, that Arria was “a puppet” for the Dedham administration. But he didn’t pan his former boss completely.

“He’s not the worst AD I’ve ever worked for, and he’s not the best,” Maher said. “Tom had some strengths, he had some faults…He needs to listen to his coaches who have experience with a particular sport …”

Arria, in response, told the Transcript those who realized his goals took the right approach toward him.

“I think the people that took the time to know me, wanted to converse with me and wanted to try to understand what I was doing, I think they’re very happy with the effort I’ve given the last three years,” he said, “and what’s been accomplished by (the Dedham athletic) department in the last three years.”

And for those coaches with whom he clashed?

“Maybe they should look in the mirror and find out what is their goal, what did they want to accomplish during my three years,” Arria told the Transcript. “If what they wanted to accomplish was the betterment of the whole then I can’t see how they could disagree with it, but if they wanted some personal items taken care of then maybe they possibly did have a problem.”

Dedham football coach Keith Comeau was one of Arria’s first hires, and he’s won just three games in two seasons on the job – his first as a head coach – but said he had the AD’s full support.

“I felt Tom was looking out for my best interest,” he said. “I felt very comfortable working with Tom, I felt very supported by him. I got the sense from talking to veteran coaches who’ve been there 20 years, they were supportive of what Tom was doing … They were impressed with him, his organization, his efficiency.

“I think the struggles he had here were the same thing I’m going through – just being a new face. With patience, I think things would’ve gotten even better … He fostered a sense of community among the coaches.”

Now the big question in Nashua is will Arria bring long-term stability to a position that has lacked it for nearly a decade. Experienced coaches saw Arria as an up-and-comer. He will have resources – administrative, equipment, facilities, etc. – that he did not have in Dedham. And in Dedham, he had things he didn’t have during a similar three-year stint at Matignon in Cambridge, Mass.

“He came from Matignon and he had aspirations of going to a bigger school system,” Podolski said. “Dedham was a giant step up. I would think that with the right circumstances, you’d have some stability (in Nashua).

“A lot of guys like Tom, when they get into the AD job early, they have higher aspirations. But that’s a different thing and would be something way down the road. I think hopefully you’ll have some long-term stability there.”

Maher feels Arria is making a mistake by not relocating from North Reading, Mass. to Nashua.

“I feel Tom will make a contribution to your program,” he said. “But he needs to be part of the community, so he’s bought into what the athletic program is all about. Being a long-distance athletic director is not the way to go. That (living in the area) is where he’s going to learn what the community is about.

“He’s a young guy, with a young family, and I wish him well in Nashua. I hope he learned some things from Dedham.”