Woonsocket High School athletic director George Nasuti feels a common bond with his colleagues at other city schools in Rhode Island, in places like Pawtucket, Central Falls and Providence. He knows the budget restraints that ADs in those cities deal with, and can easily relate to the student-athletes and the economic realities many of them face during the school year.
âYou look at the city schools in Rhode Island and there are periods of success for some teams,â Nasuti, a Woonsocket native, was saying on Monday morning. âWe went through a good cycle of athletes here for a few years but now it seems like weâre in a down cycle again.â
Nasuti, who also serves as Principal at Bernon Heights Elementary School, has been involved in sports all of his life. He graduated from Woonsocket High in 1979, has coached football, officiated all kinds of youth sporting events, and oversees the entire interscholastic league sports program at his alma mater.
âIâve been athletic director for about 10 years,â he said. âRight now, I think weâre seeing a downward cycle in terms of dedication, commitment and loyalty from the student-athletes. I donât know when it is going to break.â
Nasuti understands why youngsters are not as committed to team sports as they used to be.
âThis is the steepest poverty level I have seen in my lifetime,â he said. âAs educators, we are struggling even at the elementary school level. We keep taking things away from the kids. Jimmy Cannon just retired as director of the cityâs Parks and Recreation department. Iâm afraid the city may not replace him. That will make it tough to keep up recreation programs.â
On a day when President Obama said âwe just canât cut our way into growth,â Nasuti looks at the future of high school sports in Woonsocket and wonders whatâs in store for the children currently attending elementary school, the kids whose faces he sees every day at school.
âYou need to have youth sports programs in the city,â he said. âRight now, the poverty has driven many youngsters into a downward spiral. We have very few recreation programs in the city outside of what you see at the Boys & Girls Club, where Dennis Harmon and some other people are doing their best to get kids involved in basketball.
âPoverty hurts families in so many ways,â Nasuti added. âYou donât see parents driving their kids to Little League practice anymore. Little League baseball is trending down in Woonsocket. Bernon Little League has about four teams now. We used to have four Little League organizations in the city. Now we have two, with about eight or 10 teams total. I know for a fact that the people running Bernon Little League are doing all they can to keep the league in existence.â
As administrator of the high school sports program, Nasuti sees some success stories interspersed with the cold realities of todayâs world. Woonsocket Highâs girls basketball team captured a Division II and then a Division I state title in consecutive years back in 2009-10. George Coderreâs team is tied for third place in D-I this year but the cupboard seems bare. The Villa Novans may eventually have to drop out of Division I.
Woonsocketâs boys basketball team finished second in the state in Division I back in 2008, an incredible achievement that grows even more amazing as coach Kyle Ivey-Jones deals with a fall-off in talent and commitment from basketball players in the city.
The program was hurt badly by the loss of sophomore forward Mike LaPlante after the 2008 season. LaPlante transferred to St. Andrewâs School and finished out his high school career there, graduating without earning the college basketball scholarship he so desperately needed.
âI blame it on the AAU coach who made promises to Mike that he couldnât keep,â Nasuti said. âThey took Mike out of his element. He was a good student who would have continued to star in basketball and baseball for us. He could have been our next Tyrone Nared.â
Nared had starred in basketball at Woonsocket High earlier in the last decade. A 6-foot-8 forward, he enrolled at CCRI and eventually earned a full-time basketball scholarship to the University of Oregon.
Woonsocketâs success in boys basketball could be traced to a core group of student-athletes who met in elementary school and stuck together through their high school careers. That kind of continuity is really the only way a city school can contend for a state title against private schools who attract many of the elite athletes from around the state through institutional prestige and student aid programs.
City schools like Woonsocket, Shea and Tolman have to just keep waiting for the next wave of quality athletes to work their way up the ladder while battling the economic obstacles that block their road to success.
âThe kids will start participating again when the teamstarts winning games,â Nasuti said. âThatâs the way it works. We have some kids in the middle school who should boost the basketball program in a few years. We have a voluntary freshman program that is run by Chris Beauchamp. Heâs doing a great job but one of the problems with basketball players is we lose a lot of them for disciplinary and academic reasons.â
As a former head football coach, and currently an assistant on Carnell Hendersonâs staff, Nasuti has evolved into an âold schoolâ administrator over the years, balancing tough love with compassion, encouraging student-athletes to play sports and stay committed to their teammates.
Henderson, an assistant principal at the high school, brings a unique set of skills to the head coaching job. With one of the best coaching staffs in the state, Woonsocketâs football program won only one league game this season after winning the Division II state title two years in a row.
The football program almost got bumped up to Division I for the 2012 season. Fortunately, South Kingstown volunteered to remain in the highest level, allowing Woonsocket to remain in Division II.
âI think weâre going to be okay in two or three years,â Nasuti said. âThere are some good players in the youth league in the city. The Woonsocket Redskins organization has done a nice job of keeping the kids involved at the youth levels and I think thatâs going to pay off again.â
From his vantage point as an elementary school principal, an athletic director and a native of Woonsocket, George Nasuti speaks with an insiderâs understanding of a complex situation at the local high school.
âWe canât keep taking things away from the kids,â he reiterated.