High School Sports

Prep sports | New athletic director sets bar high at Saint Stephen's, reorganizes coaching staff

BRADENTON -- Saint Stephen's athletic director Lenny Paoletti has a vision for where the Falcons can go.

"To be the best 3A private school in the state of Florida," Paoletti said.

Paoletti said he thinks the Falcons can get to the level of Jacksonville Bolles, a perennial state title contender in football and the top Class 4A private school athletic program in Florida this past year.

To get there, though, Paoletti has made changes to the athletic program akin to what he did during his tenure at Melbourne Holy Trinity.

In the last two of his seven years in charge of the Tigers, Paoletti maneuvered the private Brevard County school into a top 10 athletic department of its size, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association's rankings.

"We're making a major shift here at Saint Stephen's," Paoletti said. "By the time I'm done, all of my head coaches here will be coaches who coach as a profession."

Paoletti said that doesn't mean coaches can't be math teachers or business professionals in the community, but it means they will coach 12 months out of the year.

Because of that vision, Paoletti has made changes

to Saint Stephen's since he became the athletic director last July after being hired in April 2014 following Carlos Boothby's resignation.

A total of 11 changes to head coaching positions at Saint Stephen's have occurred, including Paoletti stepping in to take over the girls varsity soccer program in place of Eric Howell.

"It became very clear when you are re-evaluating all the programs at the end of the school year," Paoletti said. "Then you look at what programs are doing well and which ones aren't doing well. And which ones have the ability to become better quicker and which programs are going to need more dedication and time. So it felt like girls soccer could be one of those programs. They had a good, solid base. They've had great success in the recent past, so we really felt like girls soccer was one of those teams that could become very good, quickly."

Howell, who led the Falcons to five straight district titles from 2009-2013, could not be reached for comment.

In Paoletti's first year as the Falcons' athletic director, Saint Stephen's finished eighth in the FHSAA's Sunshine Cup standings for Class 3A private schools.

But the goal is to keep pushing forward and raising the bar.

"I think in a five-year window, we will be the top 3A private school," Paoletti said.

In addition to the change to the girls soccer team, new head coaches in girls golf, girls lacrosse, boys lacrosse, girls cross country, track and field, swimming and boys basketball have been hired since Paoletti's arrival.

Two coaching positions for girls basketball and boys tennis have yet to be filled.

Paoletti said boys tennis coach James Flanigan, who led the team to a state championship this past spring, relocated to the New England area, which is why there is a vacancy in that role.

Paoletti, originally from Needham, Mass., followed up his high school sports playing days in the 1970s with a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Eventually, he found his way into coaching, producing two NCAA Tournament appearances at Shenandoah (Va.) University and has tallied 20 years coaching between high school and college.