By ALEX SPONSELLER After 16 years of serving as the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, and nearly 50 years in athletics overall, Warwick resident Tom Mezzanotte recently retired while celebrating his 70th birthday.
Mezzanotte was a standout football and baseball player in both high school and college at La Salle and Providence College, and went on to begin his coaching career in football at Johnston and girls volleyball at Central. He continued to teach and coach and was eventually promoted to the principal of Classical in 1988 and would keep that title until 2000. He continued to be heavily involved in education until 2002 before retiring from the Providence school system.
In 2004, he assumed the role of the RIIL’s executive director and would hold the title for the next 16 years.
Mezzanotte played a major role in the development of the league during that span and implemented numerous changes and improvements to high school athletics across the state.
Some of those included creating a mandatory certification system for coaches, initiating a student leadership program, introducing unified sports to the state, assisting with safety rules including concussion protocols and contact sport regulations, signing with the NFHS Network, and establishing an online system to register and pay officials.
After nearly five decades in education and athletics, Mezzanotte is at peace with his decision to retire and looks forward to spending time with his family.
“It’s a nice change of pace. I always said that when I turned 70, that would be it. I felt like I had to start spending time on other things, that is what this time is for … doing the things that you never had time for in the past. My family and my wife have been great, I had a lot of nights out doing activities, now it’s our time,” said Mezzanotte.
Although Mezzanotte is looking forward to the next chapter, he admits that it is bittersweet leaving the league during the COVID-19 pandemic, which made his final few months at the helm some of his most difficult.
“Especially now with what’s happening with the pandemic, it’s so unusual. It’s very unsettling and disheartening because I know how much these activities mean to kids. That has actually made it a little bit harder to walk away. It’s been difficult from the standpoint that it is unusual, it’s very disappointing,” said Mezzanotte.
Now that he is hanging them up, he often reflects on his career and the many stops he made along the way. Education and athletics have always been his passion, and he is proud of the legacy that he is leaving and the impact that he made.
“When I first started teaching I coached football and girls volleyball. I enjoyed it. When you’re a teacher, you enjoy working with young people which is something that I really loved. Then I had my family, got to coach my children, I played in high school and college, so sports have always been a part of my life and my family’s life. I always just wanted to teach and coach, but administration gave me an opportunity to provide more direction, more opportunities for kids,” said Mezzanotte. “I have been fortunate enough to see the league develop and grow, and to think about how much the league has grown, it’s amazing and it can only continue.”
Perhaps what he considers his biggest accomplishment is the inclusivity he and his team at the RIIL established over the past two decades.
“When I was the principal at Classical High School, what I took pride in was the amount of kids in athletics. Not that all of them were All-State athletes, but we had such a great number of kids playing sports and had so many different opportunities for kids to participate. I was very proud of that. Then when I moved on to the league and I was very proud of how we developed and I was also proud of our work with unified sports. We were one of the first states in the country to do that. I am very proud of how much we grew, how we made sports safer for kids, more enjoyable for kids, and giving more and more kids a chance to participate in an educational-based setting. High school sports are educational-based which is important,” said Mezzanotte. “We are the greatest athletic nation in the world and it is because of high school athletics. That is one of the greatest things that we have accomplished.”
The Mezzanotte name is also one of the most recognizable in Rhode Island sports, and Tom is excited to etch his name into its history.
“The Mezzanotte’s have participated in high school athletics for generations, and I’m very proud to continue that legacy, and it continues with my kids and their kids. I grew up in the city of Providence, played youth sports, high school sports, loved education, and that is what our name is all about. Participating in sports and doing well in school. Promoting education and using education to build a successful life,” said Mezzanotte.
As he settles into his new lifestyle, he thanks the many people throughout the state and the RIIL for helping him along the way and will miss seeing those familiar faces each day.
“The things that the league and I have accomplished can be attributed to so many people throughout the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. The coaches, principals, athletic directors, parents, kids, I owe a lot to them and their involvement, all the volunteers, there are numerous people that give up themselves to help our kids,” said Mezzanotte. “That was very rewarding to me as well. I would like to thank all of them for the hard work that they have done and will continue to do. I also want to thank my staff at the league over the years, getting involved with Dick Lynch, Mike Lunney, Tom Marcello, the rest of the staff, it was a team effort and I was very lucky to be on that team.”