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Gone after nearly a year

Athletic Director James Bunnell leaves Saugus today for a new job that’s about an hour’s drive closer to home

 By Mark E. Vogler

A little less than a year ago, James Bunnell declared he felt “honored and privileged” to become the new athletic director for Saugus Public Schools.

But the School Department began advertising last week for Bunnell’s replacement after his recent resignation from the $70,000-a-year job with two years still remaining on his contract to accept an interim athletic director’s job for Lunenburg Public Schools.

Bunnell, 36, a lifelong Leominster native, denied his decision was influenced by unhappiness with the job or a feeling of insecurity because of local politics – some of the speculation from supporters who hate to see him go.

“There were never any issues like that,” Bunnell said in a telephone interview this week with The Saugus Advocate.

“I enjoyed a great working relationship with (Saugus Public Schools Superintendent) Dr. (David) DeRuosi or (Saugus High School Principal) Mike Hashem. I couldn’t have asked to work with a better administrative team,” said Bunnell, whose final work day was today (Friday, Aug. 10).

Bunnell cited money-related issues, his previous interest in a position he was applied for last year and a drastically-reduced commute from his Leominster home as his key reasons for leaving Saugus.

“The new job is going to be just a 15-minute ride from my house, where before it was an hour and 20 minutes each way,” Bunnell said.

“With my two girls – who are 7 and three years old, I’ll be able to see more of them now. Right now, it’s a better opportunity for myself and my family,” he said.

 

A better financial situation

Bunnell said he got a significant pay increase with benefits over what he was making in his current position. He declined to elaborate, but estimated he would be enjoying about a $20,000 increase in his overall disposable income, which factored in a substantial savings in fuel and other commuting-related expenses.

“Before I applied to Saugus, I had actually applied for this job last year,” Bunnell said.

A friend wound up getting the job. But at the time, Bunnell had expressed an interest should the position ever become vacant.

When his friend retired this spring and the position became open, Bunnell said he decided “it was a good fit for me,” and then initiated an application for the position.

Had the Lunenburg position not become vacant, Bunnell said he would have kept working in Saugus because he found the job rewarding and got support from the administration.

“I’m very grateful to have met some wonderful people in Saugus and have had the chance to work with them,” Bunnell said.

“They made coming to work enjoyable every day. I’m not only gratified with administration and coaches I got to work with, but also the people of Saugus and the student athletes who accepted me. There are a lot of people that I met and got to know that I’m going to miss,” he said.

“I felt like I brought life back to an athletic department that went a little stale. And I hope they enjoyed my time as much as I enjoyed working here,” he said.

World Series Park Superintendent Bob Davis praised Bunnell “for doing a great job.”

“For me, he was a breath of fresh air,” Davis said in an interview this week.

“He was very accommodating and very supportive of the park and we’re sorry to see him leave. He told me that he was getting used to the long commute, but that he was going to get more money,” he said.

 

Highlights of his year

Bunnell called his year at the helm of Saugus interscholastic athletics a productive one.

He noted:

  • Three of the teams – football, wrestling and cheerleading – received state sportsmanship awards from the MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association).

“That says something about the coaches who are there and something about the athletes who are there,” he said.

  • He helped to build a better working relationship with other school districts in several sports by developing three cooperative programs.

“I think I was able to bring stability and organization to sports by creating a co-op with Lynn English for boys and girls cross country at the high school,” Bunnell said.

“Beverly, Danvers, Ipswich and Saugus also have a co-op for girls’ ice hockey. And pending district approval, there will be a co-op between Northeast Voke Tech School (Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School of Wakefield) for boys and girls swimming,” Bunnell said.

“Bringing in these three co-ops provides more opportunities for the students to be involved in something they might not have had the opportunity to participate in before,” he said.

Bunnell downplayed the controversy and negative publicity that was generated by an incident at this year’s Saugus High School graduation.

Seven senior student athletes – six members of the lacrosse team and another on the baseball team – got suspended because they smoked cigars to celebrate getting their diplomas during graduation ceremonies.

“It’s one of those things that when it’s kind of a slow news day gets more attention than it should,” Bunnell said.

“I’ve been dealing with chemical health violations the whole year,” he said, noting that many incidents don’t get the same attention.

“After it happened, I went back and did my job … I reported it (the smoking incident) to Mr. Hashem and Dr. DeRuosi. The rules are the rules. There was never an issue about it,” he said.

 

“A strong education in the profession”

Saugus High School Principal Michael Hashem, who headed up the screening committee that recommended Bunnell for the job last summer, called him “a modest man,” but somebody that school officials had high expectations for as he took charge of the school district’s athletic program.

Bunnell replaced Mike Nelson, who resigned at the end of June last year to accept a job as Athletic Director at Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover.

But Nelson, who was also an assistant High School principal, had been doing the athletic director’s job on a part-time basis during his final year. School committee members voted to restore the position to a full-time job.

Bunnell had been athletic director for the North Middlesex Regional School District for about four years before resigning from the post last summer.

“Mr. Bunnell is an accomplished professional who brings a wealth of experience to the position,” declared a one-page statement issued by Hashem after Bunnell’s hiring…

“The Saugus Public Schools is confident that Mr. Bunnell will help our student-athletes achieve success both on and off the athletic fields.”

Before getting hired by Saugus Public Schools last summer, Bunnell has an aggregate of eight years’ experience as an athletic director. He previously worked as athletic director at Marian High School. He began his career at Saint Peter Marian where he served as the assistant athletic director, a social studies/science teacher, and a varsity boys soccer and junior high basketball coach, according to Hashem’s statement.

“Beyond his professional experience, Mr. Bunnell has a strong education in the profession. He received his Master’s in Educational Leadership from Fitchburg State University,” the statement said.

“He is one of only twenty-two athletic directors in Massachusetts to possess a Certified Master Athletic Administrator Certification from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA),” it continued.

“Mr. Bunnell is a MIAA certified coach and coaching education instructor. He is a National Federation of High School Certified Interscholastic coach. He is an accredited Sports Field Safety Inspector through UBU Sports Turf. Mr. Bunnell is Double Goal Coach certified (and working to become one of only fourteen trainers in New England) by the Positive Coaching Alliance.”

Bunnell was one of only three athletic directors in the state named to the NIAAA National Faculty, according to the statement announcing his hiring. It also notes that he is an American Red Cross Certified Instructor of Adult and Child CPR and First Aid.

“Mr. Bunnell has been an active member of the athletic community during his career,” Hashem’s statement said. He is a committee member for the Massachusetts Prevent Injuries Now Network and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Concussion Council.

At press time, it was not clear what the timetable and hiring process would be for replacing Bunnell.

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