SCHIELE’S SLANT: Norristown headed in right direction

WEST NORRITON >> And so begins Year Two for Norristown Area High School athletic director Tony Palladino at the helm of the program.

It kicked off Monday morning with a gathering of all the school’s fall sports athletes. Palladino gave them a pep talk, spoke of what is expected of them. Then, it was Game On!

“Year One was a learning experience,” Palladino said after serving lunch to his troops. “It’s just like anything else. You have to get to know people in the community, the coaches, the kids and the atmosphere.”

Many thought Palladino was crazy for taking over the reins of the downtrodden Norrristown athletic program, which was in shambles. On the field, beatings were more common than victories. Off the field, morale was terrible. The numbers were low. The community hardly seemed to care. In some cases, the student athletes didn’t have a fire and desire to get better or commit to their sport, team or coaches.

“The way things went, I’d give us a B grade for last year,” Palladino said. “But I don’t think any place is going to get an A-plus. You can always improve, and I think we showed improvement last year.

“I can’t say enough about how the kids represented the school. They practiced hard. They put us in a better position heading into this year. We had more student involvement. We talked to our athletes about being leaders by example. Hopefully that cascades into more student body support.”

In reality, that’s exactly what seems to be happening. There is a different buzz on the Norristown campus than in years past. Morale is clearly up. Ditto for community support and parental involvement. The turnout numbers aren’t too bad, either.

Clearly, things are looking up at Norristown. And not just for one or two sports, but across the board.

Baby steps, yes. But in the right direction. Especially with next year’s move to the Pioneer Athletic Conference from the Suburban One League. A move many hope will level the playing field for the Eagles.

There are also noticeable changes. A revamped and top-notch weight room has risen, built and painted by the blood and sweat of the athletes who will be using it. Baseball scoreboards have been refurbished. New life has been infused into the school.

Most teams now have student managers, practically unheard of in the past. More and more parents are pitching in, which was evident Monday during the opening day of workouts. Oh, and community involvement has improved as well, maybe a result of the announcement that Norristown and Upper Merion will rekindle a football rivalry on Thanksgiving morning starting this season.

“Thanksgiving Day is going to be an experience our kids are going to love,” Palladino said. “It’s about more than the game. It’s about the tradition and the kids are lucky enough to be a part of it and a new start.”

As Year Two kicks off, Palladino is feeling confident in his athletic program.

“Norristown has a lot to offer,” he said. “Our facilities are fantastic. But not only does the school have a lot to offer, but the community and the alumni, too. We had good people in place here (in Year One). That helped make my transition easier. It’s not a one-man show. If you make it a one-man show, you’ll sink real fast. And we have people that care.

“All I want is for our kids to have the opportunity to be successful. And that’s what we’re trying to give them. That’s what it’s all about.”

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