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Athletic director comes storming for Bomber liftoff

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
July 13, 2017
Tony Lange

The Kenston Bombers will storm onward with a new aviator in the high school cockpit when autumn sports get in full whirl next month.

District board of education members approved a two-year, $84,500 annual contract with Reid Guarnieri as their next athletic director, effective Aug. 1. He replaces Scott Pierce, who spent three years at the helm before resigning on June 5, midway through a two-year contract renewal.

Pierce said, “I’ll decline to comment on the resignation, but I wish the Kenston students, coaches, staff and administration all the best.”

Guarnieri, 39, a 1995 Bay High School graduate, has spent the last four years as the athletic director for the Storm at Lake Erie College in Painesville, which borders his home city of Mentor, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

The Northeast Ohio native said he started considering a transition from the college scene to high school based on some recommendations from former colleagues who made similar moves.

“I think, as opposed to college sports, where students might come from all over the country, or even internationally, there’s really the opportunity to have a built-in, tight-knit community with a public school district,” Guarnieri said. “And this really goes hand in hand with the family concept that I felt was important to building a good athletic program.”

Before his four-year athletic directorship at Lake Erie College, Guarnieri spent three years as the assistant athletic director at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, where he was the sole compliance officer to transition the 24-sport institution from a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program to full NCAA Division II membership.

During his time at Notre Dame, Guarnieri worked alongside Charlie Barch, now athletic director at Chagrin Falls, Adam Howard, now athletic director at Berea-Midpark, and Jason Baxtor, now assistant athletic director at Brush.

Through his continued rapport with those three gentlemen, Guarnieri said he was convinced that he’d be able to build better connections with high school student-athletes and take greater satisfaction in the difference he sees himself making on a regular basis.

“The college athletic administration life is very much – you’re overworked, underappreciated kind of deal,” he said. “And (Barch) said that, when you become part of the fabric of the community, everywhere you look around there are people who are highly interested in the program, and it’s concentrated.

“So, that’s something that really appealed to me when I was considering a transition – the opportunity to help shape young lives and to help students avoid some mistakes, appreciate the importance of high school and to be able to play a role in helping them get prepared for college, academically and athletically. I just feel like I’ll be able to have the ability for a lot more student interaction than I’ve had at the college level.”

During his high school days with the Rockets in Bay Village, Guarnieri ran cross-country and played basketball and tennis but did not continue any of those three sports through his senior year, he said.

Under head coach Dennis Sheppard, Bay’s cross-country program won a Division II state title during Guarnieri’s freshman season in 1991, but he was nowhere near a top-seven varsity runner and did not stick with the team. Basketball was the same deal.

He did play tennis until his senior year, when he stepped away to focus on his college endeavors. While he’s always been a sports junkie, Guarnieri didn’t see his athletic talents paving way to any kind of college participation, he said.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I haven’t regretted it,” Guarnieri said about not taking advantage of high school athletics to their fullest. The social aspect of being a part of a team, learning how to communicate and contributing specific role to program is important to the development of a person, he said.

“If I receive word that someone’s going to quit a team, I want to go and I want to talk to the student,” he said. “I want their family to be involved, and I want to make sure that they’re not going to play for the right reasons. I don’t want them to live to regret it the way I did. Sports can do so much for your development, and it’s kind of immaterial whether it’s going to get you to a scholarship or anything like that.”

While completing his bachelor’s degree in communications and liberal studies at Cleveland State University, Guarnieri was hired by the Cleveland Indians, working in both the baseball and ballpark operations departments from 1999 to 2006 during a then-Major League record sellout streak of 455 games at Jacobs Field – now known as Progressive.

During the course of seven years, he tried to get exposed to every aspect of the operations, which included assisting John Hart and Mark Shapiro in the offices of the vice president and general manager, he said.

“I just got exposed to all aspects of the operation, and I haven’t ever forgotten anything that I learned there,” Guarnieri said. “Everywhere I’ve been I’ve tried to institute some policies and procedures and some ideas for promotion to try and just advance the fan experience. At the high school level, I think it translates just as much. You want the people coming in to watch your team to have a good time. You want them to be entertained. And you want them to develop a connection to who they’re watching out there. And so, the Indians were amazing at that.”

During his time with the Indians, working upward of 50 to 60 hours per week in peak season, Guarnieri also attended and graduated from CSU’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 2006. He was supposed to sign an agreement with the American Bar Association to not work a full-time job during, but the self-described workaholic said that just wasn’t a thing for him.

The double-graduate of CSU went on to clerk with the Cleveland law firm of Ulmer and Berne in corporate law and political consulting, before transitioning to college athletics at Notre Dame in 2010 and Lake Erie in 2013.

During Guarnieri’s four years at the helm of Lake Erie College, the Storm have produced 15 nationally ranked teams, two national champions, two national runners-up, 32 all-Americans, 197 all-conference athletes and 622 all-conference academic performers. His department also raised about $1.2 million from increased private donations, gate receipts, camp and clinic operations and new licensing fees and sponsorship agreements.

“I think, just raising the overall competitiveness and the organization of the department and the athletic programs,” Guarnieri said of taking pride in his work. “I think the most visible improvements that we made were in our women’s sports, and I’m hugely proud of that, because I think there was kind of an imbalance in how we were competing when I came in here.”

Also, Guarnieri said he negotiated a seven-school migration to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, which will result in budgetary savings, less missed class time and enhanced championship opportunities for Storm student-athletes this upcoming academic year.

Not to mention, Guarnieri was the host administrator for conference championships, on regional advisory committees and oversaw five major facility projects during his time at Lake Erie.

Kenston athletics, meanwhile, joined the Western Reserve Conference in 2015 and finished major stadium renovations in 2016, through a 0.7-mill bond issue that generated $10 million for capital-improvement projects.

While Guarnieri said his experience at Lake Erie will transfer well to the high school level, he’s looking forward to getting away from the recruiting scene of college athletics and diving head first into enhancing a K-through-12 developmental environment.

In meeting Kenston Superintendent Nancy Santilli, high school Principal Tom Gabram and their assistant administrators, Guarnieri said he was told they’d always support him, and that’s all he needed to hear.

“I think what just really clinched it for me is that they said they would be patient with me,” he said. “And, so, now that I’ve got that security with the people around me and that they believe in me, that I’m going to do a good job, that’s all I really ever need to hear.”

Longtime family friend Steve Teringo, an assistant football coach at Kenston, also spoke to the quality of the school and athletic program, Guarnieri said of knowing someone on staff whose word he could trust.

In taking the Kenston athletic director job, Guarnieri said he plans to stick around for the long haul.

“I’ve not been someone who bounces around,” he said. “Whenever I’ve taken a new job or made some sort of transition in my career, I’ve done it thinking and hoping that it would be the last step I’ll make.

“And so, when I saw the people that were in place and saw the tradition of Kenston and how good of a school system it is, knowing that the resources are there and that the tools are there for me to be successful, it just made it a very easy decision for me.”

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