Tom Conte, former athletic director at St. Johnsbury Academy, was among 11 individuals named recipients of the 2021 Bruce D. Whitehead Distinguished Service Awards given by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).
Conte and 10 others were honored on Dec. 14 at the 52nd National Athletic Directors Conference conducted jointly by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the NIAAA in Colorado.
The award is presented annually to individuals within NIAAA membership in recognition of their length of service, special accomplishments, and contributions to interscholastic athletics at the local, state, and national levels. Nominations are submitted by state athletic directors associations, screened by the NIAAA Awards Committee and selected by the NIAAA Board of Directors.
Conte, a Danville resident, contributed his efforts and talents to athletic administration for 18 years before retiring in 2011 from St. Johnsbury Academy. A lifetime member of the NIAAA, he is involved in the Leadership Training Institute as well, completing over 30 LTCs and teaching as an instructor, said NIAAA executive director Dr. Mike Blackburn.
At the National Athletic Directors Conference (NADC), he has served as the Vermont state delegate 20 times, was the State Door Prize Manager for 15 years, and has attended the conference 29 times.
Within the Vermont SADA (State Athletic Directors Association), he holds 10 years of experience as its executive director, two years as president, and two years as secretary. He has been a presenter for over 10 years. Conte also is a past recipient of the Vermont SADA Athletic Director of the Year.
He is a member of the Vermont Principals’ Association Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in the class of 2013.
Conte spent 39 years in education in St. Johnsbury, including 24 at St. Johnsbury Academy. He retired in 2011.
While overseeing a wide expansion of interscholastic Hilltopper sports offerings, 17 Academy teams won state championships in his time. He was also the longtime varsity girls soccer coach.
Conte initiated sports such as boys and girls lacrosse, as well as ultimate frisbee. At the junior high level, he also got the baseball and softball programs up and running.
Conte assisted in some facility upgrades at Saint Johnsbury Academy. He upgraded the dugouts for baseball, softball and lacrosse, and oversaw the building of a new stadium and press box. Moreover, he helped bring about a new softball field and new scoreboards for the whole school that were 100% donated.
“We got Coca Cola to donate the dugouts and scoreboards, including portable indoor scoreboard for wrestling matches,” Conte noted. “The people from the correctional center built them. We moved the old softball dugouts to the soccer field. If it rained, now they’d at least have a place to put gear undercover.”
Twelve people from Vermont attended the event, among them former SJA coach and current U-32 athletic director Hank Van Orman, Geri Witalek, AD and softball coach at BFA-Fairfax, and representatives from Mt. Mansfield High School and Butt and Burton Academy.
“Geri and Hank put the whole thing together – I had no idea it was being done,” he said on Tuesday. “The letter of acceptance was sent to the Academy – it was in [current AD] John Lenzini’s mailbox, and he called me and said, you’d better come down here,” he recalled with a laugh.
One thousand people were in attendance at the sit-down dinner, he noted. “They had video screens set up in two places, that’s how big the room was,” he recalled. In addition, Conte received 300 text messages from well-wishers when word got out about his being honored.
Conte is also a regular at baseball Hall of Fame inductions. An ardent Yankees fan, he’s worked in the past with all-time hit king Pete Rose, and personally knows many hall of famers.
He’s been a key part of activities such as the annual Rotary youth basketball tournament, and American Red Cross blood drawings. “When I retired, the American Red Cross gave me a pinstriped Yankees jersey with Mickey Mantle’s name on it, “and a beautiful pen set as well,” he noted.
He oversaw the drawings for 24 years, two each year. The St. Johnsbury drawings were named most productive by the American Red Cross, he noted. Under his direction the Rotary tournament went from 28 teams to 106 teams from the 1980s to the mid-90s, he remarked.
Also among the 11 honorees was Wendy Malich, CAA, director of athletics and activities in the Franklin Pierce School District in New Hampshire.