By Jason Levy, Republican-American
NAUGATUCK — Brian Mariano already holds the titles of athletic director and dean of student life at Naugatuck High School. Now, he is also charged with leading the Naugatuck Valley League after he was appointed by his fellow athletic directors as the conference’s new president in June.
“I was appreciative and honored that the other ADs of the league felt I was in a position to be the president of the league,” Mariano said. “I am excited.”
Mariano will serve a two-year term, taking the reins from Torrington AD Mike McKenna. Mariano said he will be responsible for running monthly league meetings, ensuring various NVL tournaments run smoothly, communicating and coordinating with the CIAC, and maintaining the overall management and function of the league.
After the world had to deal with the tumult brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mariano is confident the league can handle the challenges that await, whether that is a resurgence of COVID or any other unforeseen circumstances.
“I thought our athletic directors did a great job with trying to balance the health and safety of our students and families along with providing opportunities to have games, postseason tournaments and following all of the mitigation strategies,” Mariano said.
“I think having come off of that year we are in a good position to be able to adjust as needed without too much of a disruption.”
The NVL, the oldest high school athletic conference in Connecticut, enters the 2021 fall season with one less program after Sacred Heart High School shut its doors earlier this year. There are now 15 schools in the league.
Mariano said the league is not panicking and is built to sustain a loss like this.
“The Brass Division had an extra team anyway so (the NVL) moves back to having three divisions of five schools,” he said.
“We are able to balance fairly easily. We just had to make some adjustments for things like Thanksgiving Day (football) games, the Brass Division schedule and those crossover games. We are sad that Sacred Heart closed and left the league. They were one of the original schools. But we will be able to adjust from a league standpoint without too much disruption.”
The symmetry of 15 teams makes it easy to maintain balance in sports like basketball, where all NVL schools have a team.
But in sports like girls soccer and volleyball, where not every NVL school fields a team and there can be a talent gap between teams, the league has to be a bit more creative with its solutions.
“We are always trying to think about how we can better balance the schedule so that we put our kids in as competitive a position as possible to qualify more teams for the state tournaments,” Mariano said regarding girls soccer.
“But sometimes that means if we are short four teams we have to look for more out-of-league games, which presents a good opportunity to schedule teams you normally couldn’t. It is always a bit of a balancing act.”
Mariano said no teams are considering leaving for another conference nor are there are plans to expand the league beyond its current lineup.
The Litchfield County-based Berkshire League, which lost Lewis Mills in 2019, and the NVL discussed forming a league akin to the 32-team Central Connecticut Conference as recently as a couple of years ago. Mariano said the move didn’t make sense for the NVL at the time.
“It is always something that is in the back of our mind, ‘Are we getting to a point where we need to think about expanding our league to maintain the Naugatuck Valley League?’ But I wouldn’t say it is a decision we are looking at all the time,” Mariano said. “If something comes up we will take an honest look at it if it is best for the league.”
One issue drawing Mariano’s focus is making sure that NVL athletes are stepping up as leaders for their teams, schools and communities.
The league recently started providing leadership opportunities for its athletes with team-building events, an idea he would love to build upon, along with helping teams excel on the field.
“Last year we were able to do a series of three and actually give our athletes some real leadership experience and help grow their knowledge,” he said.
“I would always try to make decisions to put our teams and our league in a good spot to vie for state titles,” he added. “I don’t think there are any huge initiatives, but to just make sure we continue to offer opportunities for our athletes and to put our schools in the best position possible.”