By Rob Kean
When Nashoba High principal Dr. Parry Graham first met Tania Rich – a 2001 Nashoba graduate herself, and
new NRSD athletic director — his reaction was, “Wow, she seems kind of young to be an athletic director.”
Three years later, his reaction is ten words shorter. Just simply, “Wow.”
Apparently, the Massachusetts Secondary Schools Athletic Directors Association (MSSADA) has been equally wowed by Rich’s performance, as they’ve just named her the 2014 statewide winner of its prestigious Ted Damko Award, given to the athletic administrator with five years or less in the field who’s made “significant contributions to the school, league, district and state.”
Rich has done every bit of that on paper alone, and several pages of that. In just three years as Nashoba AD, she’s served as the Mid-Wach League’s Secretary and its Soccer Chairperson, positions she currently holds. She’s on the Mid-Wach Constitution Committee, the Central Mass. Football Scheduling Committee, and is a Vice President of the Central Mass. Athletic Directors Association. She’s created a Student-Athlete Leadership Council at Nashoba and organized workshops on that front. She’s led Nashoba’s hosting of MIAA state tournament games, meets and matches, overseen the installation of a cutting-edge turf field, and spearheaded the creation of unified programs which team general education students with those who have special needs. She’s attended more state and national conferences than can be listed.
But perhaps more than anything, what wows Dr. Graham about his athletic director is something that will never show up on Rich’s curriculum vitae. “She’s the number one fan of our athletes and teams,” he says.
It’s an observation shared by others in the Nashoba athletic community. “Tania attends virtually every game,” swears Steve Kendall, head coach of Nashoba’s varsity hockey, varsity softball and unified street hockey teams. “The kids feel she cares about them and their sport.”
As do the coaches. Says varsity girls tennis coach, Steve Winer, “Whenever I need her with an urgent matter, she always gets back to me immediately. She has excellent command of her position, and is well-respected by peers, coaches, parents and students.”
Ben Langelo agrees. “Tania’s always available whenever I have questions or concerns,” says the head coach of Hale Middle School’s cross-country teams, and assistant coach of varsity girls track. “She graduated from Nashoba, so she knows what it’s like to be a member of the Chieftain family. Honestly, when I heard she won (the Damko Award), I wasn’t really surprised. She’s the absolute best.”
Boys varsity basketball coach Danny Ortiz echoes the sentiments of the other coaches: “Very well deserved award for an honest and caring individual that really cares about the students and her staff. She is a pleasure to work for.”
For Brenda Mason, head coach of varsity boys tennis, her admiration of Rich goes back to the latter’s days as a student-athlete at Nashoba. “I was a math teacher at the high school when Tania was a student, so it’s been fun for me to watch her go from playing high school sports, to teaching and coaching, to the AD position. She was made for the job. She loves all sports, and she loves the kids.”
But as proud as Mason is of Rich, perhaps the proudest coach is Kendall, who attended and played for teams at Leominster High School when Ted Damko himself was the Leominster AD. “I can’t think of a better person to win an award named in his honor than Tania,” he says. “She’s positive, energetic, compassionate, friendly, hard-working and has high standards. These are all the qualities we as coaches and teachers expect from our student-athletes. What better person to have in charge of the athletic program than someone who embodies these traits?”
As for the embodiment, Rich is loath to talk about herself in the context of recognition, except to say she’s grateful to her fellow athletic directors who honored her with the Damko Award, then quickly credit, “my coaching staff and administrative team for their help and support.”
Which isn’t to say she’s not proud. It’s just that what she’s most proud of isn’t an honor won by her. “Over the last three years,” she reflects, “our teams and student-athletes have won championships that have been highlights for the Nashoba community. However, it’s not all about the trophies. Over 70% of our student-athletes are on the honor roll, and our school spirit is tremendous. I love seeing our students supporting each other, on and off the field.”
This is what wows Tania Rich. And why she wows everyone else.