by Ken Brown
Northeast Kingdom – Craftsbury Academy (CA) became the latest small Vermont high school looking for a new athletic director last week, joining Hazen Union from the previous week.
John Stein is stepping down as A.D. of Craftsbury Academy after less than four months on the job. Stein replaced Connor Bean, who left for Division III Bellows Falls over the summer after one year at CA.
Stein is a former middle school math teacher at CA and retired lieutenant colonel whose honors include the Legion of Merit, given by the United States Armed Forces for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. CA Principal Matt Foster helped lure Stein out of retirement this past summer, but Stein will return to retired life to travel.
“We have an intern position posted and hope to fill it soon,” said Foster. “We’ve had good communication with John and he’s left us in a good spot going forward. I see a lot of traveling in his future, but he’s only a phone call away if we really need him. Our former A.D. Gabriela Silva has also been a huge help for us anytime we’ve needed it, and we really appreciate that.”
Foster’s next A.D. at CA will be the fifth in five years, with Silva now leading the Peoples Academy-Stowe athletic department and her predecessor Derek Cipriano, who is now the A.D. at Spaulding.
The next Charger A.D. will have the challenge of increasing participation numbers in the traditional sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball. CA has built elite cross country and track and field programs but has struggled to consistently field teams in those other sports the past five years. For the first time, CA did not field a varsity girls’ or boys’ soccer team this past fall.
Foster hopes to field a varsity boys’ basketball team this winter as well as a junior varsity girls’ team. CA has only fielded a varsity girls’ basketball team once since their Division IV Final Four appearance in 2017. Student athletes at CA that didn’t have a Charger program to play for the past six years have competed for Hazen Union. Act 46 and school choice has influenced several small school neighboring programs to merge all around the state, with Danville-Twinfield-Cabot being the latest cooperative with CCSU Athletics.
“Small school athletic programs have had their challenges, and we are no exception. We don’t fault our former athletic directors for going through the challenges here at CA and using that experience as an opportunity to better themselves professionally at a larger school. They all did a good job here at CA and continue to have success in their new positions. We’ve developed a good relationship with Hazen Union over the years and will continue to pool our resources together when needed to continue to give our student athletes a chance to compete at the varsity level,” said Foster.
Oluwadare Sowunmi is also stepping away from his athletic director duties at Hazen Union after one year on the job. He will be the new A.D. at Division I Colchester and will start his new duties on November 27. Sowunmi helped further cultivate the relationship between Hazen and CA the past year and brought stability to a Wildcat athletic department and student body that was mourning the tragic death of former Hazen A.D. Jared Cushing in the fall of 2022. Principal Jason Di Giulio is currently leading the search for an interim A.D. and Sowunmi will remain on the staff part time to help train his eventual permanent replacement.
“Hazen has prepared me tremendously in starting a new role at Colchester. Coming into a community where they take such pride in their sports and stepping in after John Sperry and having the tragic death of a predecessor nonetheless, I had big roles to fill and kids to pour my heart into. Hazen and the Hardwick community accepted me wholeheartedly and a lot of people treated me like family. So many people and local businesses helped me be successful at my job at Hazen and the community support is something I will miss the most. The kids at Hazen will always have a special place in my heart. I want the athletic program to continue to thrive and those kids to become successful people in life!” said Sowunmi.