Game-Changer Alumni Profile – Kyle Sasala

Director of Athletics St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Akron, OH

What were you like in high school?  What sports did you participate in?

Back in high school I attended a bigger high school near Cleveland in the northeast Ohio area, a co-ed public school called Brunswick and I was a 3 year baseball player, one year basketball player and then ended up transitioning into strictly being a baseball player.   However, I definitely participated through my fair share of sports, extra-curriculars, clubs and things like that in high school.

What was your undergraduate experience like at the University of Cincinnati?

My first year, post high school, was at your school of choice at Ohio University. I was there for a year, and then obviously transitioned over into the University of Cincinnati, where I was studying sport administration. My time at Cincinnati was a great transition and I took it more seriously than I did in high school. I knew that this (the sports industry) realm is where I wanted to be and where I wanted to grow in my career.   So overall, I definitely took it a lot seriously with internships and volunteer work in addition to the coursework. I think I had a 3.94 out of 4 as a student and it was really different than high school, and, like I said, I took it very seriously.

In 2018 while you were in graduate school here at UC; you multitasked as a graduate student and a graduate assistant with Roger Bacon High School; what was that like balancing those demands and what did you learn about yourself?

First of all, shout out to Roger Bacon and Steve Rossi and those guys over there. They did a fantastic job of teaching me and mentoring me and putting me into the position that I am today. But overall, I learned the importance of time management skills over there. Obviously, you know, working with them as well as doing my coursework and volunteer work was definitely tough at times, but definitely time management skills and organization and things like that are what I learned at Roger Bacon and that really got me ready for where I am today.

In June 2019, you were hired as the Assistant Athletic Director at Bishop Fenwick High School in Middletown Ohio. What were your main responsibilities and what were some initiatives you accomplished?

I was there to obviously assist the athletic director with the mission and vision of the office as well as with site management, working with officials, working with coaches as well as getting that direction from the athletic director on what we wanted to accomplish through education based athletics. My role was to be that support system for the school and pouring my heart and soul into the coaches, the programs and student athletes. To me, it’s all about the student athletes and how we can get them from point A to point B.   Whether it involves playing at the next level or if they just want to be a great human being, the goal is to get that young boy or young girl and molding them into that responsible young man and young women through sports.  I’m getting into my philosophy here a little bit, but it’s a lot bigger than the X’s and the O’s. It’s basically how we can teach these life lessons, dealing with adversity, time-management, proper organization, and making them better prepared for the next steps in their life.  In terms of initiatives for our athletic facilities, believe or not, in 2022 we still had a natural grass field, so we were in the process of finding donors and fundraising, in addition to obtaining sponsorships and things like that to pay for the new artificial field turf as well as the track. Before I left Fenwick we were in the process of ripping up the entire track, and we we’re doing all of the asphalt that was actually funded through our operational budget of the school and as a result, a lot of planning with the Booster clubs was done to make sure the donors and the alumni of the school were all on board with our vision and mission for both the field turf and the track project.

Your ascent in education-based athletics has been remarkable.  In June 2021, you became the youngest high school director of athletics at the age of 24 at Bishop Fenwick High School. Then, in 2022, the opportunity presented itself for you to take over as Director of Athletics with St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron Ohio.  That was quite a game-changing transition and as such, what goals do you hope to accomplish for your first year as director of athletics and what are your longer-term goals?

First off, I have had great role models such as you, as well as in my previous positions with A.D.’s like Steve Rossi and Brandon Spaeth at Roger Bacon in addition to Michael Coleman, who was the previous athletic director at Bishop Fenwick before I took over the AD position. But, overall, I definitely have surrounded myself with some great role-models and people to from whom I gathered a wealth of information, but, I have had a great experience in my young career. In my first year at St. Vincent St. Mary, I really just want to establish myself get to know the alumni, get to know the coaches and athletes and overall, get to know who’s who? At the end of the day, I want to be present whenever it may be possible to show up for different events. You’re not just at the football, basketball, or the baseball games, rather, you’re going to the Booster Club meetings as well as going to different events, plays and performances. You’re surrounding yourself, not just in the athletic office, but, in the school community in general. That’s what I’ve been pushing myself into and my approach is twofold.   First, is showing up and getting to know the alumni getting to know coaches, and the parents. I think parents play a huge role in in being an athletic director.  Getting to know them, and really understanding, and letting them know what you’re all about. I think as the AD, maybe a lot of times what gets missed is that the parents and the players, and maybe even some of the coaches don’t understand where you’re headed and what your mission is, or what your vision happens to be and how you want to get there. So, I think explaining it to the parents and the players and the coaches, and the alumni, and in the community of what you’re all about, and what you want to get accomplished is a lot easier especially when you’re making some mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s the honest truth. But when they have an understanding and an idea of the ‘why’ of what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, they’ll have a better understanding of what I’m about and what I want to accomplish with the mission and vision for the athletic program.

LeBron James is a significant alum who was a big part of the history of the Saint Vincent-St. Mary basketball program and all the State championships that they were able to attain. With that being said, to what extent has LeBron James’ influence had on the program that you now stepped into?

I mean, obviously coming into this role, I knew that LeBron was a great player and a very prominent donor and clearly one of the best, if not the best players ever to ever do it. To come out of this high school obviously puts us in the spotlight.   Now, we are on TV more often,  Our boys basketball team is going to la to play a couple of different teams in the next couple of weeks on TV and they are playing against LeBron’s son’s team, so it definitely puts us on a different level for everybody to see and the expectations are always high.  Especially when it comes to the boys’ basketball team, when you have Lebron, there’s that high expectation that’s been set.  But overall, Coach Drew does a great job, and the basketball program is like a well-oiled machine.

Can you tell me about how you and your coaches act as role models for your student-athletes?

I’ll get a little bit into my philosophy here, I think a few coaches sometimes lose sight of the education based athletics mindset.   Overall, at its core, athletics is an extension of the classroom. I think the ‘win at all costs’ mentality is slowly fading, and I would hopefully say quickly fading, because I think a lot of times that mentality just gets in the way of the education based athletics mindset. So, I am here to treat the program as an extension of the classroom. Teaching life lessons, dealing with adversity, organization, things we talked about a little bit earlier, but I want them to go through some type of adversity to get them ready for the next level. So to answer your question, as role-models, we want to teach them to be great athletes, that’s great, and that’s what we want to do. But it’s just as important to teach them to be great young men and young women and be contributing people to society in whatever aspect that they choose and as role models, I think a lot of our coaches already do that very well.

What are the improvements you plan to make to the athletic facilities at St. Vincent-St. Mary?

First is our softball field and track. A second piece of it is our brand new weight room. That was all decked out with all new squat racks, weights, exercise machines and things like that.  We’re almost set up as a as a college campus, where we have three different buildings, one main building and a separate second called our ‘Cosgrove facility’, which is our wrestling room, our athletic training room, as well as our auxillary gym.  Here in Akron, we’re a bit more landlocked and we don’t necessarily have the space, but the plan is to buy more land and we’re going to be buying up some here in the next few years, and as a result, we have plans potentially to add a new, separate practice football/ soccer/lacrosse field as well as a track. Currently, our high school football/soccer stadium doesn’t have a track that goes around the entire stadium. So we definitely are lacking when it comes to the track and field piece of it. But, adding that second field would help us with practices, and gives our track and field and cross-country runners some more space to run and participate. But that’s in the in the making, as well as an indoor practice facility for football soccer, which is a 60 to 75-yard practice playing field as well as coaches offices and meeting rooms. Things like that are way down the road in the next 6 to 7 years. But that was something that’s been in the works and talks about that were present even before I got here at St. Vincent-St. Mary, but I definitely love being able to give my expertise on facility initiatives like that as well as jumping into this and building upon what we’re already doing.

What advice would you offer to either undergraduate or graduate students as they matriculate through the Sport Administration Program?

I would definitely say, get to know your professors, I mean, obviously, you and I have created a great friendship and bond, you know, I would never have met you if I didn’t go through the UCSPAD program, so I definitely would say get to know your professors and have them assist you with networking.  95% of my internships and jobs were due to networking.  I think the positive of getting to know your professors is because they know people that you don’t and they can put you in front of people that you don’t know. And then that’s where you can take it from there and get to really know more individuals and bring them into your social network and your professional network.  Another thing is get out of your comfort zone a little bit. There were definitely some internships and volunteer work that I didn’t necessarily want to do. But I knew that over the long haul, it was going to help propel me into where I am today. A great example is when I was over at Roger Bacon as their Graduate Assistant.  I was responsible for stirring up the nacho cheese in the concession stand. But you know, just doing the little things right, that’s what people notice. My mantra is, as you know, that I’ll still do those small little things that maybe some people just don’t want to do. I’ll roll my sleeves up and do anything. Nothing is below me and it doesn’t matter. I still do it. But overall, the two things are get to know your professors as well as get out of your comfort zone. Finally, be sure to do those different internships and engage in volunteer work.  I love the UCSPAD program.  I want the people in the program to know that I was once in your shoes not that long ago and to show you that it’s doable. You just got to put the time, energy and dedication into it.

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