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Article Published June 16, 2019
North Haven’s Strength and Conditioning Program Proves Hugely Beneficial
Chris Piccirillo, Sports Editor

The summer months typically provide a time for student-athletes to get in a little rest and relaxation after persevering through the grind of the school year. However, the athletes who play sports at North Haven High School aren’t necessarily looking for reasons to kick back and put their feet up in the shade. Instead, the Indians are looking for ways to improve their physical fitness while forming closer relationships with teammates in order to increase their chances of success when the next season rolls around. That’s where North Haven’s strength and conditioning program comes into play.

North Haven High School has been offering strength and conditioning to its students since 2004. During the school year, sessions take place after school four days a week in the weight room. After graduation, the summer program gets going with sessions every Monday through Friday for two months. These are free, comprehensive programs that address all the major qualities of athletic performance, whether it’s power, speed, agility, or just being in good shape in general. North Haven’s 2019 summer strength and conditioning program will get underway on Monday, July 1.

“The strength and conditioning program has helped us a ton. We would be nowhere without it. We’d be stuck,” says Joe Vitale, who will be a senior captain on the North Haven football team this fall. “In order to take that next step up, you have to get stronger and faster and have more discipline, and we wouldn’t have that without the strength and conditioning program. What we learn there applies to every single sport. It creates a better team. It gives us an opportunity to put in the work to prepare for our season.”

North Haven’s program is spearheaded by Mike Ranfone, who is the head of strength and conditioning for athletics at the high school. Ranfone was a multi-sport athlete at Hamden Hall who went on to play football at Union College in New York. After graduating in 2003, Ranfone was the head of strength and conditioning at Yale University for three years. In 2007, he founded his business, Ranfone Training Systems, which emphasizes sports performance and adult fitness. He’s also done consulting for several professional sports teams.

In 2004, Ranfone met North Haven football Head Coach Anthony Sagnella through a mutual friend. The two hit it off immediately and started talking about the importance of athletes maximizing their physical fitness, as well as becoming less prone to injury. Sagnella asked Ranfone if he could help him put together a summer strength and conditioning program, and Ranfone has been working with the Indians ever since.

The program started out as weightlifting for the football team, but it’s expanded exponentially throughout the past 15 years. Every weekday during the summer, as early as 6 in the morning, there’s a weight room full of athletes from multiple sports who are working hard to ensure that they’re in prime physical condition.

Two years ago, the strength and conditioning program was incorporated into the North Haven town budget. In addition to Ranfone, the certified coaches who work with the Indians’ athletes are Corey Berrios, Nick Bellerose, and Geovonnie Oglivee.

“I really don’t know why more high schools don’t look at sports preparation like colleges do. No matter the sport, it’s an integral part of any athletic program’s success. Credit to [North Haven Athletic Director Steve Blumenthal] for saying, let’s be the first town that allows this type of service to be provided for the community,” Ranfone said. “It’s a monumental step. We are working at a college level in a high school town, and I don’t think any other school is doing that at this magnitude or scale. We’re blessed. We really are ahead of the times.”

North Haven’s strength and conditioning program offers each participant the opportunity to enhance their athletic abilities in a variety of areas. Some people want to bulk up through lifting, others want to limber up their joints through quickness training, and others want to do a little bit of everything during a given 90-minute session.

Rafe Lawless, a soccer, basketball, and lacrosse player who is entering his junior year at North Haven High school, said that he’s seen plenty of physical benefits as a result of participating in the program.

“From my freshman year to now, I’ve noticed a huge change in my sprinting ability and my lifting ability,” said Lawless. “I’m a lot faster than I was my freshman year and, since I’ve gotten bigger, it’s easier for me to do my job as a defenseman and hold people back from scoring.”

Lawless also feels that the expertise of the coaches, coupled with their concern for each individual’s personal progress, is a major positive for every participant.

“The coaches are great people who are really supportive and definitely help us out,” Lawless said. “They’re always there to demonstrate activities before we do them and answer questions about how we can improve. They really care about all of us.”

The benefits of the program go beyond physical fitness. It also offers a chance for teammates to get together during the offseason and build bonds that strengthen their chemistry for when it’s time to compete. Vitale says the brotherhood among North Haven’s football players starts to take shape during these workouts.

“You get new guys that you don’t know coming in as freshmen and, for six to eight months, everyone bonds together in the weight room during the school year. That’s one thing, but to then get there in the summer at 6 a.m. and see 60 other guys there and know that you have something in common with them, that’s special,” Vitale said. “You look to your left, you look to your right, and you know that everyone has your back no matter what, because you’re all going through the same thing together. You get closer as friends, and then friends become a family.”

Vitale believes that the strength and conditioning program promotes a family atmosphere among all of North Haven’s athletes, regardless of what sport they play. Sarah Puzone, who recently completed her sophomore year, plays for the girls’ basketball team at the high school. Puzone said the program helps athletes develop mental fortitude that they can rely upon when times get tough in the heat of battle.

“When you know in the back of your head that you’ve put in so much work, it helps you physically and mentally during the game,” said Puzone. “We’ve all worked so hard to get where we are, and we know that we’re going to be there for each other, whether we’re on the bench or playing on the court. That makes a big difference.”

Puzone added that it means a lot to know the North Haven school system is doing what’s in the best interest of its student-athletes by supporting the strength and conditioning program.

“It’s honestly such a great feeling to know how much the school cares about us by giving us the chance to do this right at the school,” she said. “They want to take care of us, they want us to do well, and this gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Ranfone had a vision of getting more people in the community involved with sports at North Haven High School, and he feels proud that this goal has become a reality through the efforts of so many dedicated people in town. While Ranfone is pleased to see the Indians collecting so many wins on the field, he said the biggest victory comes from knowing that North Haven’s strength and conditioning program is helping set up student-athletes for success after their high school days are done.

“When you look back at the last 10 to 15 years, it’s not just the wins and losses. That’s an easy one,” said Ranfone. “But you look at kids who have gone on to play college sports and then become great fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives, and you realize that this can change the trajectory of someone’s life. Once someone learns that working hard with a good plan pays huge dividends, they can apply that in any facet of life. I take a tremendous amount of pride in that, because the community has brought into what we’re tying to do.”