(Meet Your Athletic Director is an occasional feature in which we’ll introduce our fans to athletic directors throughout South Jersey, give you background on their experience in sports and see what their vision is for the future of the programs they lead.)
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Chris Sacco is about as Hammonton as blueberry pie. He was born and bred in the quaint town on the western edge of Atlantic County, and his was the first graduating class in the new Hammonton High School on Old Forks Road.
He’s been a lifer in town and now — professionally — he’s come back home to stay as the new athletic director of Hammonton High. He took over at the beginning of this school year for Marni Parks, who left last summer to take the AD job at Wall Township High School in Monmouth County. It’s a dream job for Sacco, who for the past several years was a counselor and head football coach, first at Pleasantville High and most recently at Absegami.
In fact, Sacco said he had no plans to leave Absegami, but an opportunity to run the athletic department at his alma mater and hometown school was simply too good to pass up.
“This kind of happened last minute. We were rolling at Absegami with our offseason (football) program, and it was the first time since I had been there that we had a full offseason due to the covid restrictions. So, we were feeling really good about the progression of the football program and where it was going, but then this opportunity came up,” Sacco said. “This is where I grew up, we’re part of the community here, so I figured why not interview and see what happens? And it ended up working out. But it was hard; it was a tough decision to leave Absegami because we were in the middle of building something, but I always said that if this job ever came open I would have to at least try for it because (athletic director) positions don’t come open very often. Sometimes it might be 15 or 20 years before a job comes open.
“I went back to get my supervisor certificate for this position,” he added. “I could have been a counseling supervisor, but this was the role — because of being so involved with sports throughout my life — I feel like with my background and knowledge, and my relationships with people, that we can continue to grow these programs. This is the job that I wanted, I just never knew when it was going to be available.”
Sacco grew up playing all kinds of sports in Hammonton, including football, and remembers fondly how he and his high school teammates helped the coaches move all the equipment from the old building to the new high school back in the early 2000s. He said he believes his ties to the town will play a big role in his success as the new AD for the high school.
“Even when I was coaching in other areas, like Pleasantville and Absegami, I’ve always lived in Hammonton. I’ve been a part of this community for 37 years. It means a lot to me, personally. Anytime you have an emotional interest in your job beyond just going to work, it carries a lot more weight. I’ve always been very adamant that Hammonton always has very good athletics, there are great facilities here at the high school and I think the town has done a great job trying to upgrade facilities for the feeder programs. I think this community has a lot to offer, and being a part of it the past three decades, it’s important for me to do whatever I can to try to grow these high school programs,” he said. “I used to work on the farm. I’d go to (football) weightlifting sessions then go back to work on the farm. It’s definitely a blue-collar town and I think the athletes have always taken that approach that they are going to come in and work hard. We’re not always the biggest, strongest or fastest, but there is something that these programs have on the inside that is hard to replicate. These kids grow up together and stay together, which I think is a huge benefit when you get to high school. You care more about your teammates and you play harder for them. You see that on the field, and the programs here have been very good.”
Sacco took over during the second week of August, so it was a full sprint to try to get caught up to speed on everything an athletic director needs to handle throughout the school year. But the good thing is he’s not trying to build something from the ground up. The Blue Devils have some outstanding sports programs and are competitive in every sport, and the facilities are some of the nicest in South Jersey. The school just installed an artificial turf field right behind the gym to be used by the field hockey and soccer teams, and there is all kinds of land behind the school for sub-varsity fields in sports such as soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball.
“I don’t necessarily have to build anything from the ground up, there are a lot of people who have been here and know what’s going on,” Sacco said. “There are a lot of people who have been helping to run this ship for a while and my goal is to just continue to steer it in the right direction and see how else we can promote our student-athletes. We want to get more exposure to our athletes, and I really want to see all of our programs compete at a high level.”
He does have some big shoes to fill, however. Parks did an outstanding job with the athletic program, and she followed up Mike Gatley, who now is the athletic director at Mainland Regional High in Linwood and formerly was the president of the Cape-Atlantic League.
“Marni did a very good job, and prior to her was Mike Gatley, so the foundation has been laid,” he said. “What I went over during the interview process was, from an organizational standpoint, the desire to continue to build up the feeder programs and have our high school athletes do more with them; we want to look at any sports we might want to add that we don’t have that maybe other schools have. And what kinds of things we can do to get out in front and make sure our student-athletes have everything they need to be successful. That was part of the conversation. What can we do to continually enhance this athletic department? We want to bring the technology aspect of things up to date, and there are a lot of ways we can promote our student-athletes so we want to start hitting on all of those.”
Sacco said it was a difficult decision to leave Absegami, but that his family — including his three young children — is happy he’s going to be home more often and only works five minutes from home now.
“It was hard, but we’ve had things personally the past couple of years that have transpired that change your thought process a little bit,” he said. “I know this move going forward is the best, and I can always get back into coaching (at the youth level). Football, in some aspects, will always be there, and these kinds of jobs aren’t always available, so you have to make a choice. It was bittersweet because my wife knows how much I love football, but it’s not about me anymore. We have little kids and it’s nice to be closer to them. My wife is a speech therapist in the Hammonton School District, so we’re both happy.”
This is Sacco’s first full year as an athletic director, and it may take some time before he can fully tear himself away from the football field. As a coach for so many years, he still has that yearning to get on the field, whistle in hand.
“I stopped out at practice (during the 2022 preseason) for a few minutes, and it’s different now being on the other side of things,” Sacco said. “That coach is always going to be in me. I know on Friday nights I’m going to be excited for them, but it’s going to be different for me. In my mind, I’ll probably be going crazy. But our coaches know what they are doing so I’m not going to be the kind of guy who interferes. I was never a micro-manager as a football coach and I’m not going to be that guy now.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays