Jeff Granatino is well-versed as an educator and administrator, his three-decade journey in school systems south of Boston initiated by a chat between the Hingham High grad in his early 20s and Fred Jewett, his former defensive coordinator with the Harbormen football team.
The Middlebury graduate was starting in sales. Jewett offered, “you might want to get into coaching.”
But no position, or training — as a coach, teacher, athletic director, principal, or superintendent — could have prepared Granatino, or any individual, for what has been his first year as president of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for the 377 member schools in the commonwealth.
A week ago, following Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to extend the closure of school buildings through through June because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MIAA’s Board of Directors, with much thought and deliberation, officially cancelled high school sports for the spring season in the Bay State.
Weighing the safety and health of student-athletes, coaches, and families, it was the proper decision. But the enormity of a lost season was heart-wrenching for Granatino, both in his position with the association, and now, in his fifth year as superintendent of the Marshfield Public Schools after previous stops in Norwood and Canton.
And in the midst of what had been already been a year of change for the MIAA — the membership’s late February approval of a game-changing statewide tournament proposal for 2021, a redistricting plan earmarked for this fall, the transition to MaxPreps to power seed tournaments, and divisional realignment on the horizon for 2021 — the coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on schools across the state has been staggering.
Through it all, Granatino has stayed on point, keeping the communication lines open, keeping all stakeholders informed and engaged, saluting the resilience and collaboration of his colleagues, while remaining upbeat through tumultuous times.
In essence, he has followed the seven simple words under his Twitter handle, @MarshfieldSuper ... Every Student . Every Day . Whatever It Takes.
The past few months have been unprecedented for the MIAA. How have you taken on the challenge?
No one is going to prepare you for what we have seen, whether it is at the school level, or the MIAA level . . . [But] we have strength in numbers, with educators, athletic directors, principals, superintendents working on committees . . . I think we have been deliberate, and decisions always have been done with what has been in the best interest of the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, and their families. That is our No. 1 priority . . .
The narrative changes hourly and daily. How have you kept the focus where it needs to be?
I have been living by the motto, ‘You can only control what you can control.’ You can’t worry about things that are out of your control . . . When we were looking at the closing, or extending the start of the spring season, possibly to salvage something, we could not control what the Governor would come down with as far as his closure recommendations . . .
You have placed a great deal of emphasis on communication. Now more than ever, how important is that dynamic?
We looked at the communication and climate survey that went out to the membership [last summer]. We tried to build our initiatives off the feedback . . . Communication has been an issue in the past with the association. You have seen this year, with our monthly highlights now posted by Tara Bennett. People have a much better idea of what is going on on a day-to-day basis . . . It is an ongoing process . . . There are 377 school districts that are providing resources to the MIAA, they should have a better understanding of what we are doing.
You were a high school (Hingham) and college athlete (as an 'undersized’ defensive tackle for Mickey Heinecken at Middlebury). How difficult was it to cancel the spring season?
It was the right decision, given the circumstances, but that does not make it any easier for us to make them . . You only get so many seasons as a high school athlete. And the number of kids that go on to play in college is minuscule, so this it. My kids have played at Scituate High. My freshman daughter was really looking forward to playing lacrosse. Our student athletes and our students who don’t play sports have lost so much over last two, three, and four months. They’re not going to able to get it back — from losing trips to Europe, to competitions around state, to plays and musicals, day-to-day interaction with fellow students and teachers, and no official chance to stay good bye, or wrap things up. That has been the saddest part of the whole story.
Do you see hope, and the possibility of a return to school in the fall?
The light that I look toward, I think that we are going to have a student body and a staff — not that they didn’t appreciate what they had before — they are not going to take it for granted. They are going to come back hungry to learn, hungry to interact with their peers and their educators. And we will have to adjust to a new normal.
Will the association be ready if competition is a go?
Oh yes, I think [executive director Bill Gaine] and his team in Franklin, and [associate director Richard Pearson], the sports committees, especially those tied into fall sports, they are going to do what they need to do over the next few months, to make sure that there is a system in place . . . As soon as we get the green light from the Governor, or the Department of Public Health, we’ll be ready to have something for our students.
Our No. 1 priority is getting the students back in the classroom, in a traditional setting. If we are then also given the opportunity to have our extracurricular activities, after school, band, theater and athletics, if we are competing on the field, we will be able to implement the changes that have been put into place for next year . . . If we are going to compete, there will be certain stipulations that we will have to meet. Once what we do find out what the directives are, we will work very hard to meet those expectations."
Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com.
Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.