Norwich hires longtime educator Louis Allen to rebuild school sports program
Norwich — When Norwich school officials advertised for an athletic director to rebuild long-dormant elementary and middle school sports, one applicant’s name jumped off the page for veteran local school officials.
Louis Allen Jr., longtime educator, coach and athletic director, was named this month as the new athletic director for Norwich Public Schools. He will be tasked with building a program from scratch that had been eliminated a decade ago in budget cuts.
The school district will use federal COVID-19 relief grants to bring interscholastic sports and Unified sports in partnership with Special Olympics to the middle schools, and sports skills and intramural games to lower grades.
Allen, who retired in March 2020 as executive director of the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communications, or ISAAC, in New London, has served schools in the region since 1975.
He started as a teacher and football coach, and later dean and assistant headmaster at St. Thomas More in Oakdale. Over the years, Allen has served as principal at New London High School, development director for New London Public Schools and director of the New London Science and Technology Magnet High School. He also served as special assistant to the superintendent at Norwich Free Academy from 1989 to 1992.
“Of all the applicants, Mr. Allen was far and above anyone in the pool as far as years of experience as an athletic director, a coach and a teacher,” Norwich Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said. “So he jumped off the page.”
Stringfellow announced Allen’s appointment at the June 8 Board of Education meeting and said school principals, teachers and school board members expressed excitement about Allen’s long record of service in the region.
“Obviously, he’s been a fixture in southeastern Connecticut for a very long time,” said Peter Camp, Uncas School principal, who wrote the district plan to revive sports. “When I was a student athlete at NFA, he was principal in New London. This is a perfect opportunity for him with his experience. A perfect fit.”
Allen, 69, of Salem, said when the new Norwich part-time position was posted, superintendents told him he would be perfect for it. Allen said the position “spiked my interest" and brings him full circle in his career.
“I’ve always been involved in sports, even at the schools when I was an administrator,” he said. “I’ve always loved sports.”
Allen called it “wrong” that Norwich schools have gone so long without sports. He looks forward to building a program that in addition to popular sports also considers activities such as fencing, crew or kayaking. Norwich Harbor could be a ready venue.
Allen officially starts July 1, but he already has visited all city schools, met principals and Norwich Recreation Director Cheryl Hancin-Preston. This coming week, he will meet with NFA Athletic Director Roy Wentworth. Allen also wants to contact middle school administrators in surrounding districts to start new relationships and schedule interscholastic sports competitions.
He would like to start a mentoring program with NFA and Norwich Regional Technical School athletes working with middle school athletes. He hopes to form partnerships with local businesses to help sponsor sports teams and activities.
Allen said he was pleasantly surprised that the city schools have good playgrounds and sports fields ready for use.
He and other school officials will spend the summer hiring coaches, purchasing equipment and assessing interest in various sports among middle school students. Stringfellow said she did not want to announce the program and ask for signups this spring, because it would not be fair to departing eighth graders to promote programs they would miss out on.
Allen said he hopes to start this fall with cross country and soccer, basketball in winter, spring track and field. The exact programs will depend on student and parental interest. “It may not be full-scale with teams in a league.”
He said he will ask the coaches to emphasize building students’ skills, with practices being a mixture of skills, teamwork and game experience.
Allen said parents, too, have to get used to the experience of preparing for school sports, including physicals, tryouts, a busy practice schedule and games.
“We’re going to do this incrementally,” he said. “We can’t do it all in one year. We can’t just build a program from scratch. We have to do it right, build it up and every year add some different programs.”
Allen also is adamant that there be ties between sports and academics. Careful scheduling will allow students in sports to participate in other after-school programs, also being revived with the federal COVID-19 relief money. He will ask coaches to spend several minutes in practice on asking students about academic work and rallying them to be ready for upcoming tests or school projects.
Norwich was approved for $8.5 million in the second federal coronavirus relief program approved by Congress last fall and another $18.5 million in the American Rescue Plan approved in March. The funding runs over three years. The sports programs are covered in the social and emotional learning portion of the grant, along with instrumental music and other after-school activities.
With funding limited, Allen said he will focus on building programs that are sustainable long-term, such as finding community partners for sponsorships.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s very doable,” he said. “I’m looking forward to what we can provide for the kids. The program will evolve and will grow.”
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