When he was a young football player at Xavier High in Middletown, Al Dadario thought he would be a football coach someday. But some things we dream about when we’re younger don’t always happen.
Today, Dadario is a coach — a Hall of Fame girls cross country coach. The long-time Avon High teacher and coach was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) Hall of Fame last fall.
And Dadario is one of eight finalists for National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) national coach of the year honors in girls cross country. The winner will be announced in June at the group’s national coach of the year banquet in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Dadario, a special education at Avon High, coaches all year long. He leads the girls cross country team in the fall, is an assistant coach with the indoor track program in the winter and leads the girls outdoor track and field program in the spring.
“I feel fortunate,” Dadario said recently regarding the Hall of Fame award for cross country. “I’ve had a bunch of great runners. I can’t take all of the credit. They’ve done the dirty work and I get to enjoy the awards.”
He joined the Avon High staff in 1995 and took over the girls cross country program in 1996. While he grew up playing football, he began running in 1981 when a former boss at Elm Crest psychiatric hospital in his hometown of Portland began a running club.
His girls cross country teams in Avon have won four state championships, six league titles and have finished second in the state three times. His Falcons won their first Class MM championship in 2012 and finished second in the State Open. They finished 14th at the New England championships in 2012.
Avon has won three of the last four Class MM championships including a victory this past November with a school record 39 points – the lowest they’ve scored at a CIAC championship meet. From 2010-14, the Falcons won a school-record 44 straight dual meets.
“I enjoy being around the kids,” Dadario said. “They give me a lot of life.”
Dadario is the fourth Avon High coach to be inducted into the CHSCA Hall of Fame. Former volleyball, girls basketball and softball coach Barbara Startup was inducted in 2012, current field hockey coach Terri Ziemnicki was inducted in 2013, and former boys soccer and baseball coach Marty DeLivron was inducted in 2016.
The competitiveness of the football player that Dadario was still comes through even today. “I love competing and I love seeing the kids improve, trying to go out there each week and win,” he said.
There has been plenty of success the past few years but it’s not all about winning.
“One of the joys of coaching is to see (how) the girls progress (throughout the year),” he said.
Dadario has been an assistant coach with Avon’s boys and girls indoor track program since it began in 2011. The girls teams won a pair of North Central Connecticut Conference (NCCC) titles in 2013 and 2014. Their best finish at a CIAC championship meet was a fifth place finish this year and in 2013 by the Avon girls.
In outdoor track, he was the boys and girls head coach from 2006-14. Since 2015, he has been the head girls coach although the coaching staff works together as one seamless unit for both teams.
The Avon girls won three straight NCCC titles from 2013-15 and in 2016, the Avon girls won their first state title in outdoor track with a one-point win over Berlin. Last spring, they finished second in Class MM with a school record 79 points.
After every season, the Falcons have an end-of-the-year banquet to celebrate what they achieved over the previous weeks they were together. It can be an emotional event. The girls have become part of his extended school family.
Winning state championships is great, Dadario said. But he is proud when he hears from his former athletes, pleased that some have gone on to compete in college and pleased that to hear that many are still running. “That’s probably the best,” he said.