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Article Published January 21, 2021

Ermini Guiding Branford Through Challenges as Athletic Director

By Chris Negrini/Zip06.com

Tom Ermini has long been a part of Branford athletics, but last November, Tom cemented his place in Branford for years to come when he became the town’s district athletic director. The position puts Tom, a North Haven resident, at the helm of the athletic programs for both Branford High School and Walsh Intermediate School.

When Tom was enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) in 2006, he student-taught physical education at Branford High School under then-athletic director Jake Palluzzi. That experience gave Tom a snapshot of both the responsibilities and the rewards of his current position.

“In the summer of 2020, the district announced that they wanted to make athletic director an administrative position for both schools. To me, that was a dream job,” says Tom. “I started in Branford as a student-teacher finishing college, and I was shadowing Jake Palluzzi. That gave me a glimpse of what that job looked like. It was an opportunity, and I did my best to show my capabilities to get it.”

Tom certainly has the credentials for the athletic director’s position. Tom received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science for teacher preparation in 2006, earned a master’s degree in school health in 2009, and then completed an administrative degree and certification in 2017—all at SCSU.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Tom taught part-time for two years in North Branford and then got a full-time position in Milford, where he taught for nine years. In 2017, Tom took a position teaching physical education and health at Walsh Intermediate School, in addition to becoming the school’s athletic director. From 2007 to 2017, Tom was also head coach of the Walsh wrestling team, enjoying a tremendous run of success. Tom’s extensive experience gives him great perspective regarding the academic and athletic responsibilities of student-athletes.

“I had always been interested in athletics, and I fell in love with coaching from the very start. When I went for that administrative degree, this was the position that I was seeking the most. I wasn’t interested in being a principal or an assistant principal. I wanted to oversee the people who were working with athletes,” Tom says. “Through my time, whether it was teaching or coaching, I knew Branford was where I wanted to be. To have this opportunity is a dream come true for me, because it’s where I want to be.”

Tom grew up in Newtown, where his high school athletic career centered around baseball and wrestling. While Tom wasn’t a part of championship campaigns, he had success deciding his path in life through sports. Tom knew that the camaraderie of a team and the knowledge he took away from his experiences were incredibly valuable. Tom wanted to facilitate similar results for other student-athletes.

“Growing up, I was interested in baseball and wrestling. I enjoyed everything about being on a team. I felt like being around coaches or other people who enjoyed the sport. I loved talking with them about the game. That’s what led to me enjoying coaching so much. I had so many great people to look up to,” says Tom. “There are so many life lessons to learn in athletics. I wasn’t on a ton of successful teams growing up, but being a part of team was what was most important. I will always remember the kids and those who experienced those moments with me. I knew that was something I was interested in continuing to experience.”

Tom cut his teeth by doing some volunteer coaching, but it wasn’t until he started coaching at Walsh that he found his real calling. Being involved in those athletes’ formative years brought Tom a great sense of satisfaction in coaching.

“I had coached baseball as a volunteer for a couple of summers, but as soon as I got started at Walsh, I just felt like that age group was who I wanted to be around,” Tom says. “I enjoy working with all kids, but that age range is a really important set of years. I really enjoyed that opportunity to work with them.”

Tom’s coaching philosophy is comprehensive. Tom wanted his grapplers to not only improve on the mat, but to also become more complete people. Tom says that his approach can be distilled by a quote from former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, who said, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Now, Tom will emphasize that philosophy with Branford athletics.

“I think you can’t look at how successful you are by wins and losses. I measure success as how much have you affected the kids in your program. How much have you helped them grow as a person?” says Tom. “I feel strongly about working with kids and getting to their level. You have to be a really great mentor. It’s not all about performance on the field.”

Tom took up his new position at a challenging time with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the country and causing issues in both professional and amateur sports alike. Tom has been taking the difficulties in stride, while also seeing the silver lining behind the current circumstances.

“I think right now, as challenging as the pandemic has been, I’m lucky to have come in at this time, because everyone is trying to do what’s best for these kids together,” Tom says. “I think everyone is aware that my goals are all focused on making sure we’re giving the kids the best possible experience.”

The best thing for students, athletes, teachers, coaches, and the community at large is for everyone to be as safe as possible and mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. That objective comes first, according to Tom.

“I think that right now, we’re all looking for guidance on the safest course of action. It’s a time where staff has to come together with the experts in the local department of public health, who have that local data. They will help us make all the informed decisions,” Tom says. “My goal is just to continue to communicate updates when they are available. This is a time that we have to accept some changes and try to provide the safest opportunities for students. My job is to organize and handle these opportunities for students safely. I know I’m being depended on for these answers, but I want to get the most informed and knowledgeable health officials involved.”

With the end of the pandemic hopefully in sight now that vaccines to combat it are progressively becoming more available, Tom has more ambitious hopes for the future of Branford athletics than just getting back to normal.

“I am focused on persevering through this time and supporting our students to get through it. Hopefully, soon this will just be a memory. I’m hopeful that I’m building the culture that will help get people through this,” says Tom. “Then, one of the obvious goals is to continue to build on the numbers in the middle school programs. We have great middle school coaches that build great programs with positive cultures. I want to keep building on that, because those athletes continue on to the high school level. It helps having that bridge between the schools.”