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After serving as an assistant coach with East Haven’s girls’ soccer team, Mike Papantonio was recently named the head coach of the Yellowjackets’ boys’ soccer squad. Mike is a Madison native who played soccer at Daniel Hand High School. (Photo courtesy of Mike Papantonio )
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The East Haven High School boys’ soccer team will be featuring a familiar face in a new role this fall. The Yellowjackets recently named Mike Papantonio as their head coach for the 2019 season. Mike, a Madison native who played soccer at Daniel Hand High School, had previously served as an assistant coach for East Haven’s girls’ soccer team the past two years. Mike says that he’s eager to grow alongside the Easties’ athletes as he dives into this new opportunity.
“It’s about learning. If I come in thinking I know everything and can’t learn or improve, that’s not the right attitude to have,” Mike says. “I try to keep an open mind about these things and build on my experiences to get as better as a coach. If I expect my players to work hard to get better, I need the same from myself.”
Mike was a defender for the Hand boys’ soccer team, before graduating from high school in 2002. He never thought that coaching was going to be a part of his future. However, after returning home from college in 2006, Mike was presented with a chance to coach Hand’s JV boys’ soccer squad—and he hasn’t looked back.
“My friend’s mom was working in the athletic department at Hand and said they had an opening in the middle school for a soccer coach. I applied and got it, then the guy doing JV had to step down, and they promoted me that day,” says Mike, who lives in East Haven. “I fell in love with it, so I went for my teaching certificate, and I’ve been coaching as much as I could since then. I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself as just a soccer coach. I’ve been able to work in soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. If a sport needed a coach, I’m interested in getting involved.”
Mike, a teacher at High School in the Community in New Haven, spent three years coaching the Hand JV boys’ soccer team, in addition to coaching one year of JV girls’ lacrosse and one season of freshman boys’ lacrosse at his alma mater. He’s also coached girls’ soccer at Westbrook Middle School.
East Haven Athletic Director Anthony Verderame believes that Mike’s wealth of coaching experience, coupled with his overall attitude, makes him the ideal candidate to step into a head coaching role with the Yellowjackets.
“We conducted one of the largest head-coaching searches in my tenure, and we were fortunate to find an applicant as professional, caring, and dedicated as Mike Papantonio,” Verderame says. “Mike has been an integral part of our girls’ soccer program, working successfully under [Head Coach Jake Hackett]. I have complete confidence he will elevate our boys’ program to the next level and look forward to working with him.”
The East Haven boys’ soccer team has seen some struggles in recent years. Mike is looking to change the culture of the program, and he wants to begin that mission by working as hard as he can to set the right example for his athletes.
“I want to make the culture, and the kids need to know I’m there and I want to be there. The only way I can do that is with hard work, and that starts with me,” says Mike. “Once I set the tone with what my expectations are, hopefully, they buy into what I’m selling. With a little bit of hard work, we can see some results, and it starts with me. I need to let them know I’m here for the long run, and I really want to be here. I want to see if we can turn things around.”
One of Mike’s biggest goals as head coach is to get more players involved with the program. East Haven didn’t have a freshman team last year, and that’s something that Mike would like to change in the near future.
“It starts with numbers. If we get numbers, that’ll help. I want to work with Jake, get a summer program going, and hope that will build into the season, so we can get a little momentum,” Mike says. “It’s going to be a challenge, but if I can get some of this first group and have them tell their friends there is a new coach and they’re having fun, hopefully, we’ll get others to join. It’s going to have to be word of mouth, but I have to start with what I’ve got and build from there.”
Of course, Mike wants to help East Haven win more games and get more people to come out for the team. However, Mike’s top priority as a head coach will be to make sure that everyone who competes for Easties becomes a better player and a better person by the time they graduate from the program.
“Any kid that plays for me, by the end of the season, I want them to have had a good time, learned something, and gotten better. If I can do those things, then I would say I was successful, and it was a successful season,” says Mike. “I think every kid deserves the right to play, and I want those experiences to be positive. I want them to be proud they did this. I would consider that a successful athletic adventure.”
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