History was made at Greenport Union Free School District last week when Paula Nickerson was named interim athletic director. For the first time since the athletic program’s inception, a woman was hired to fill the position.
“I feel honored,” the Shirley resident said. “But what took so long?”
She noted that the number of females working as athletic administrators is increasing, going through a list of ADs across Suffolk County and naming several.
When she moved to Long Island from upstate New York in 2002 to work as an athletic director in the Middle Country Central School District, there were only about three or four females in the position, she said.
“I think that women are gaining more respect in athletics,” said Ms. Nickerson, 63. “I didn’t think that was always true in years past. To me, it’s not about gender, it’s about doing your job and doing what’s best for the student-athletes and the athletic program.”
As Ms. Nickerson begins her new position, she said one of her main goals is to meet all the school’s coaches to learn who they are and their coaching style, she said. Additionally, Ms. Nickerson plans to get to know the Southold and Mattituck athletic directors since Greenport shares numerous sports teams with the two districts. She will also attend the principal’s roundtable this month to introduce herself to parents.
Lastly, she wants to create a “captains council” where team captains would meet and learn ways to inspire leadership, as well as share their opinions of the sports program — its strengths, weaknesses and aspects that need to be changed, Ms. Nickerson said.
Although she has been an athletic director at numerous schools — most recently at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School — she began her career as a high school English teacher. After 10 years as an English teacher she went on to become the assistant principal of Union-Endicott High School near Binghamton for nine years and interim principal for one. Following the principal’s return, the district asked Ms. Nickerson where she wanted to work, and her answer surprised them.
“I said I wanted to be the director of physical education, health and athletics and that’s how I got into this business,” she said. “I coached field hockey and girls track and I played field hockey in college [at SUNY/Potsdam]. And my two children were both three-sport athletes.”
After leaving Mercy in 2011, Ms. Nickerson retired, though she continued to teach graduate sports management classes at Stony Brook University and undergraduate sports management classes at Dowling College as an adjunct professor.
Ms. Nickerson officially “got back in the game” Nov. 30 when she filled the Greenport athletic director’s position left vacant by James Caliendo, whose resignation became official Nov. 11. Mr. Caliendo resigned weeks after first-year head football coach and former NFL quarterback Michael Buck quit after being passed over for a physical education teacher position in the district. In an earlier interview with The Suffolk Times, Mr. Caliendo said he recommended Mr. Buck for the head coach position and was disappointed he wasn’t selected as the new physical education teacher.
As for Ms. Nickerson’s upcoming year as interim AD — the district’s eighth in 50 years — she feels she can bring a different perspective, since her background includes both teaching and administrative experience.
Others, including high school principal Gary Kalish, agree.
“I am very excited to collaborate with an experienced educator like Ms. Nickerson,” he said. “I am confident that with her experience in athletics and school administration, she will become a valuable part of the Porter athletics tradition.”
Ms. Nickerson said her favorite part of the job is interacting with the students. At her former schools, she said students would joke that she had the easiest job on campus.
“I always get a good laugh out of that,” she said. “They always say ‘You have the best job, Mrs. Nickerson, you just order equipment and watch games’ and I go ‘Well, there’s a little more to it than that.’ ”
“There’s a lot of issues in athletics,” she continued. “It’s a very high-profile job. But I love athletics and it helps me to love the job. And you still have the connection with the students.”
Photo caption: Interim athletics director Paula Nickerson stands in the football bleachers at Greenport High School. (Credit: Nicole Smith)