PAWTUCKET — As interim athletic director for St. Raphael Academy, Fred Saunders is being called upon to guide the department while the search to replace Bruce Gammell takes place. The void was created following Gammell’s resignation late last month.
Gammell’s decision to relocate to Florida was viewed in some corners as curious, given that fall high school sports were set to start. For his last official act before leaving, Gammell, who also taught at St. Raphael, recommended to the administration that Saunders be hired in the meantime.
Saunders is presently the head coach for the girls’ varsity basketball program at SRA.
“I think I was just as shocked as all the other coaches here when I got the call stating that (Gammell) was moving on,” said Saunders while sitting in the athletic director’s office that overlooks the basketball court inside the Wellness Center Tuesday afternoon. “Bruce had called me up to tell that he had recommended me for the job to the principal. I told him I was honored and said that I would be right down.”
The “interim” tag may be, in itself, interim. Saunders has a deal in place that expires on Dec. 1, though he figures to be a strong candidate to fill the position permanently.
School Principal/ President Maryann Donohue-Lynch told Blackstone Valley Sports that the process of finding Gammell’s replacement will begin in earnest this Friday, which is when she plans to announce the five-person search committee handpicked by her.
Saunders has already indicated that he would want to remain in the capacity he has grown to have a greater appreciation for since being appointed.
“I am in contention for this job,” Saunders confirmed. “I love this community and have been coaching here for several years and am very familiar with the temperaments of the school, so I would certainly like to be the athletic director.
“Under the interim title, I’m actually seeing athletics from a different point of view,” Saunders continued. “Making sure who’s eligible and who’s not along with the administrative work that goes along with this job, those are things I was able to adjust very quickly to. I’ve been trying to make this position very organized so I do not neglect some of my other responsibilities such as coach.”
As an interim Saunders is considered a part-time employee. He’s limited to five hours per day but it’s not uncommon to see him dedicate more time to the role.
“I’ll get here at 10:30 in morning and leave around 4:30,” Saunders said. “There are just so many things going on.”
Interacting with the parents of players is an area Saunders is well-schooled in, being a veteran coach. Nowadays those same ears are extended to all of the parents who have a child playing sports at St. Raphael, be it at the varsity or junior varsity level. That’s fine as Saunders stressed the importance of keeping things business as usual on Walcott Street.
“One thing that I think the school did a really good job is making the change as seamless as possible, given the circumstances,” said Saunders, who coached girls’ basketball at La Salle Academy prior to arriving at SRA. “Maryann has done a great job in leading us through this transition period and I’ve been here to lend a hand and doing the best I can with whatever she needs. She’s a hands-on principal so I’m in contact with her daily.”
Saunders hasn’t yet had to deal with the myriad of responsibilities that come with making sure a school’s home football game goes off without a hitch, though he catch a glimpse of what to expect after stopping by last Friday’s St. Raphael-Tolman game at Pariseau Field. SRA’s first official home game at Pariseau is Saturday, Oct. 1 against Woonsocket.
“That gave me an idea of what to expect,” Saunders said.
If Saunders had his druthers, he would remain coaching the girls’ hoops team besides serving as athletic director. That, however, won’t be a decision made by him alone.
“I know I can do both, so if the school allows me to do both, I will certainly do both to the best of my ability,” he said.
In the meantime he will continue to oversee SRA athletics. Saunders is planning to attend the Interscholastic League-sponsored Athletic Directors’ Workshop that’s scheduled for Friday at Johnson & Wales.
“I’m here and I’m applying for the job,” Saunders said, “but if I don’t get it I will see that whoever does get it has a seamless transition as well.”