Her enthusiasm is immediate, like the sound of a crowd shocked by a walk-off home run. Her goals aim high. At 30, Melissa Dlugolecki wants to be a coach of coaches.
In an interview, the new director of athletics at Arlington High School talked about who she is becoming by pointing to those who have inspired her.
"I still have a softball full of quotes he wrote out when I was 13," she said, referring to a gift from Steve Simoes. Now at Holy Cross, he was a coach and teacher when Dlugolecki played at Hopkinton High.
"It is sitting in my new office in Arlington, and despite the different phase of my life, the same philosophies apply. He fostered an environment of self-discovery, support, goal-setting and working hard to achieve each goal.
"He isn't a Patriots fan, but his messages were parallel to many of [Coach Bill] Belichick's: Do your job, work hard and ignore the noise. He also taught me not to focus on statistics or records but rather experiences and performances. He always noted that the statistics and records will work themselves out if you do all the important things right -- he was correct."
In the 50-minute interview in her AHS office, Dlugolecki, who played field hockey and softball, followed Simoe's advice: She shied away from stats and favored lessons learned.
Examples of lessons learned
Asked to describe some, she recalled that field hockey was the better teacher. That team, after struggling at .500, improved her senior year (she was a team leader), while softball was strong (she played center field).
Playing through loss helps teach the value motivating others weather adversity.
She recalled scoring two goals in last two minutes of a field-hockey match in a come-from-behind win.
Lesson learned? "... [T]o see the game all the way through."
It meant overcoming the short-term thinking characteristic high schoolers, a trait bound to help an athletics director.
At Providence College, inspiration came from her field-hockey coach, Diane Madl a former Olympian whose attitude she called "relentless."
Beyond the playing field
The lessons Dlugolecki has learned go beyond challenges on the playing field.
At Providence, she worked at the Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Centerin Hopkinton, which cares for those with disabilities, from infants to adults.
In a summer program, she taught elementary students not to shy away from the unknown -- including autism, blindness, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
In 2005, she ran the Boston Marathon to raise money for Respite clients, receiving much support from Providence College.
At the school's all-sports gala banquet that spring, she received Jane Thompson Humanitarian Award, named for a former champion swimmer who overcame cystic fibrosis.
After college, she first worked for TJX in Framingham and then as a residential counselor at the Kennedy-Donovan Center in Foxborough. She ran two group homes for adult women with disabilities.
But she missed coaching and in 2008, began teaching in Holliston. There, she served in educational leadership positions, including volunteering to help develop schoolwide rubrics to measure 21st-century learning expectations, leading a redesign of the student advisory program and serving on the Teacher Technology Advisory Committee.
Since 2009 at Holliston, Dlugolecki was the assistant athletics director and a special-education teacher.
In Arlington, she began work this month in a position that has been redefined as full time in the wake of the dismissal in March of Edward "Ted" Dever.
Vision of director position
Asked to describe her vision of a director of athletics, she took a deep breath and began ticking off aspects of the challenge:
"To be visible, to love working with kids, to enjoy sports, to be a solid communicator, to establish standards and expectations."
On that score, she cited an Arlington sports acronym, ICARE, which stands for (from the AHS handbook):
• Accountability and responsibility,
• Respect, and
• Effective teamwork and cooperation
Beyond those hopes, Dlugolecki searched for word that would give shape to her vision: The AD, she said, "needs to trust coaches and empower them .... There is no one set of model for coaching. You need to find a style."
Her plans for the position include establishing a captains' counsel. Captains of all sports will meet and establish rapport with each other and with her.
"They have to feel comfortable coming to talk with me," she said.
She would like to see captains "police the program," maintain high standards and practice leadership.
She admitted she would miss teaching and coaching, adding: "The athletics field will be an extension of the classroom."
Working on her master's in education at Framingham State, she is a registered administrator through National Interscholastic Athletics Administrators Association (NIAAA) and is awaiting certification.
The salary range for the position was described in April as $78,000 to $88,000. She will start at the beginning of that range.
As the new director of athletics gets to know the captains of Arlington High School teams, passing along -- and receiving -- lessons in leadership, you can expect to see the cloud that has hovered over the program since last August clearing.
This story was published Monday, July 22, 2013.