After 11 years, Michael Lahiff will be stepping down as Athletic Director at Watertown High School at the end of June. During that time, he helped bring WHS back into a championship winning program, with athletes who are both competitive and show good sportsmanship, and with many teams lead by teacher-coaches.
Lahiff retires after 39 years in education in Stoneham, Somerville and Watertown. He spent the last 24 years as athletic director, first in Stoneham and then at WHS.
“I was on the other end of the world for most of the rest of my career, Somerville and Stoneham twice,” Lahiff said. “This brought me to another part of the (Middlesex) League. I got to meet a lot of nice people — coaches, athletes, parents — it has been very enjoyable.”
The Raiders have won more than a dozen state championships during Lahiff’s tenure, including nine in field hockey, three in boys basketball and one in boys hockey. Teams also took numerous Middlesex League titles. WHS teams also made the state final in girls basketball and boys soccer.
Lahiff was one of the teachers to survive the cutbacks resulting from Proposition 2 1/2, so many of his friends were older. He decided to make the move to Watertown because many of his friends had retired, and it was a good point for a new start.
“(Boys basketball coach) Steve Harrington was here. I knew (former girls basketball coach) John Rimas from coaching in the league,” Lahiff said. “It was a small school. I had always been at a small school. I have something about fighting for small schools in regards to large schools.”
As part of that effort, Lahiff pushed to divide the Middlesex League into different tiers, based on school size.
“I thought that was an important key for small schools, so I was really happy that that happened,” Lahiff said. “I think that you see the results with Watertown and Stoneham, how they have been much more competitive and have won league championships that maybe never would have happened in a large school situation.”
The athletic program has expanded under Lahiff, adding lacrosse and, just this year, swimming.
“I think that was a good thing, reaching out to athletes that were not part of our program,” Lahiff said.
Building the middle school as a feeder is another thing he has worked on. When he started as a basketball coach in Stoneham, the junior highs had strong athletic programs, but now most towns rely on youth sports leagues. Lahiff prefers having it in the school system so that coaches and athletes get to know each other sooner.
As a small school, one of the challenges for an athletic program was getting enough players to participate. When he arrived, Lahiff started the Athletic Director’s Award, which is given to students who participated in all three seasons (fall, winter and spring) during all four of their years at the high school. This year, 16 athletes got the award for participating in all 12 season, up from eight the year before. One athlete, Sydney Poulin, actually participated in 13 seasons because she played on the varsity ice hockey team when she was in eighth grade.
The members of the Class of 2018 who won the Athletic Director’s Award were: Alexander Abrahamyan – UMass Amherst, Angus Brouillard Gettysburg College, Gabriella Cacia – Simmons College, Liz Cam – UMass Amherst, Nicholas Cordeiro – RPI, Valentina Gaete – UMass Boston, Emily Koufos – Holy Cross, Ben Landry – Bob Jones University, Maddelyn Leitner – Long Island University, Matthew Muldrew – University of Rhode Island, Anthony Panza – Framingham State, Stella Papadopoulos – Curry College, Sydney Poulin – Endicott College, Elizabeth Powderly – Penn State, Christine Saroufim – Simmons College, and Ana Zoubian – Mass. College of Pharmacy.
The awards were presented during a School Committee meeting in June. After the presentation, School Committee Chairman John Portz thanked Lahiff for his work.
“Thank you for 11 years leading the Athletic Department,” Portz said. “You have done a wonderful job.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who sits on the School Committee, also wanted to thank Lahiff, especially for adding lacrosse and swimming teams.
Lahiff has also been involved in high school sports on the league and state level. He serves on three committees at the state’s high school sports governing body, the MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association): basketball (which he chairs), baseball and the Board of Directors. He also has served as head of basketball in the Middlesex League fore 24 years.
Basketball was the entry point for Lahiff to coaching, education and eventually becoming athletic director.
“It has been a good run. Basketball was kind of the thing I got into really early, and it became a career for me to get into education as a teacher-coach,” Lahiff said. “I think that is the whole thing, having as many teacher coaches as possible is the way to go.”
Looking back, Lahiff pointed to a few things he has been proud of:
“Just having good sportsmanship between our coaches and our athletes, that was pretty important to me,” Lahiff said. “I think getting competitive — we’ve had a great run in my time here. We’ve had some great athletes come through and coaches did a great job.”