Norwich – When Norwich school officials made an announcement for a sports director to rebuild dormant elementary and middle school sports, a candidate’s name jumped off the page for former officials of the local school.
Longtime educator, coach and athletic director Louis Allen Jr. was named the new athletic director for Norwich Public Schools this month. He will be responsible for building a program from scratch that was eliminated ten years ago during budget cuts.
The school district will use federal COVID-19 relief grants to bring interschool sports and unified sports in partnership with Special Olympics to colleges, and athletic skills and intramural games to lower grades.
Allen, who retired in March 2020 as Executive Director of the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communications, or ISAAC, in New London, has served area schools since 1975.
He started out as a soccer teacher and coach, then as dean and assistant principal at St. Thomas More in Oakdale. Over the years Allen has served as Principal of New London High School, Director of Development for New London Public Schools, and Principal of New London Science and Technology Magnet High School. He was also Special Assistant to the Director of the Norwich Free Academy from 1989 to 1992.
“Of all the nominees, Mr. Allen was far above all the others in terms of years of experience as a sporting director, coach and teacher,” said Norwich Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow. “So he jumped off the page.”
Stringfellow announced Allen’s appointment at the June 8 Board of Education meeting and said principals, teachers and school board members have expressed enthusiasm for the long history of service. ‘Allen in the area.
“Obviously, he’s been an integral part of Southeast Connecticut for a very long time,” said Peter Camp, principal of Uncas School, who wrote the district’s plan to revive the sport. “When I was a student-athlete at the NFA, he was a principal in New London. It’s a perfect opportunity for him with his experience. A perfect fit. “
Allen, 69, from Salem, said when the new part-time job at Norwich was posted superintendents told him he would be perfect for it. Allen said the position “piqued my interest” and brought him full circle in his career.
“I’ve always been involved in sports, even in schools when I was an administrator,” he says. “I have always loved sports.
Allen called it “wrong” that Norwich schools have gone without sport for so long. He is eager to create a program that, in addition to popular sports, also considers activities such as fencing, crewing or kayaking. Norwich Harbor could be a ready place.
Allen officially begins July 1, but he’s already visited every school in town, met with Norwich principals and recreation director Cheryl Hancin-Preston. Next week he will meet NFA sporting director Roy Wentworth. Allen also wants to reach out to college administrators in surrounding districts to build new relationships and schedule interschool athletic competitions.
He would like to start a mentoring program with athletes from the NFA and Norwich Regional Technical School working with middle school athletes. He hopes to form partnerships with local businesses to help sponsor sports teams and activities.
Allen said he was pleasantly surprised that schools in the city have good playgrounds and sports fields out of the box.
He and other school officials will spend the summer hiring coaches, buying equipment and gauging interest in various sports among college kids. Stringfellow said she didn’t want to advertise the program and ask for entries this spring because it wouldn’t be fair for eighth graders to leave to promote programs they miss.
Allen said he hopes to start this fall with cross country and soccer, basketball in the winter, track and field in the spring. The exact programs will depend on the interest of students and parents. “It might not be on a large scale with teams in a league.”
He said he will ask coaches to focus on building student skills, with the practices being a mix of skill, teamwork and playing experience.
Allen said parents also need to get used to the experience of preparing for school sports, including physical exams, trials, a busy training schedule and games.
“We will do it gradually,” he said. “You can’t do everything in a year. We cannot just build a program from scratch. We have to do it right, expand it and add different programs every year. “
Allen is also adamant that there are links between sport and academics. Careful planning will allow athletic students to participate in other after-school programs, also revived with federal COVID-19 relief money. It will require coaches to spend several minutes in practice asking students about academic work and rallying them to be ready for upcoming tests or school projects.
Norwich was approved for $ 8.5 million in the second federal coronavirus relief program approved by Congress last fall and an additional $ 18.5 million in the US bailout approved in March. Funding spans three years. Sports programs are covered in the social and emotional learning portion of the grant, as well as instrumental music and other extracurricular activities.
With limited funding, Allen said he would focus on creating long-term sustainable programs, such as finding community partners for sponsorships.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s totally doable,” he said. “I look forward to what we can offer the children. The program will evolve and grow.