TOWNSEND - If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. It's an old saying that holds true for James Bunnell, who has been named the athletic director at North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend.
The Leominster native was a finalist the last time the position opened up at the North Middlesex, but the school went in a different direction, hiring Mike Dawson.
When Dawson recently left the school to take a job with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, however, Bunnell got another shot at the job he says he's been hoping to land for his entire professional career, taking over the helm of North Middlesex athletics on July 1.
"I was a finalist at North Middlesex the first time, and when Dawson left, I just lit up because I got another opportunity," Bunnell said. "I went and got all of my certifications, because I wanted them the next time I applied to have a very difficult time saying no. This is my dream job. I wanted to be an AD at a big program, and I hope to be at North Middlesex for as long as they want to keep me here."
Bunnell attended St. Bernard's Central Catholic High School in Fitchburg, graduating in 2000. His first high school coaching position came at St. Peter-Marian, where he soon became assistant athletic director.
He spent five years at St. Peter-Marian, and this past year took a position as full-time athletic director at Marian High School in Framingham. "The headmaster at St. Peter-Marian gave me the opportunity to become the assistant AD," Bunnell said. "I learned under Rich Reilly, the former AD of Marlboro High School. I would've probably taken over for Reilly at St. Peter-Marian had he retired sooner, but because he retired later I ended up taking the opportunity at Marian."
Bunnell earned his master's degree in educational leadership from Fitchburg State University. He is a certified athletic administrator, CPR certified, and possess all of the other credentials associated with athletics administration for interscholastic sports.
Bunnell has a working relationship with other athletic directors in north-central Massachusetts, and he credits them with helping to steer him into a career as AD when he was working as a referee.
"Once I figured out that I wanted to be an AD, I would show up for games a half-hour early and pick the brains of local athletic directors," Bunnell said. "We talked about how they got to where they are, and what they did, and what their suggestions were."
Over the years enrollment at North Middlesex has slipped a bit, which can make it challenging to field competitive teams, but the biggest challenge Bunnell foresees is encouraging the updating of athletic facilities and the school itself.
"The biggest thing that I'm going to stress is taking pride in the school you are at," Bunnell said. "You want to bleed your school colors. I want kids to take pride in what you do and your field. When they see an athletic director come in and do everything he can to get them what they need and the facilities to look nice, and to have the best things we can have that we can afford. It's hopefully going to be like a good cold and be contagious and carry through in a very positive way."
Success on the field is an important goal for Bunnell's athletic approach, but it's only part of his larger plan. He hopes to instill a culture that emphasizes academic excellence as well as athletic success.
"You are a student-athlete, and you are always a student first," Bunnell said. "All of the students that I've worked with, I've wished them the best to make it to the college level or professional level of sports. But the reality is that number is slim-to-nil. Your mind is going to get you a lot farther than athletics. I want the students to focus on the academic piece, because playing sports is a privilege."
Bunnell has spent the past 10 days getting acclimated with the new position and campus. Since school is out for the summer, he has not had the chance to meet all of the coaches, which he hopes to do shortly, but girls' basketball coach and football announcer Pat Murphy has helped in the transition.
"I started July 1, and (Murphy) has been in my office almost every day," Bunnell said. "He's very encouraging and happy for me, and I'm very excited to be around with someone who is a permanent figure in a good way at North Middlesex. You want someone dedicated like that, and he certainly bleeds red, white and blue.
"Once I get my office situated I plan on having all the coaches in individually to discuss what their thoughts are, what they need from me, and what I'm looking for out of them. Just so we can all be on the same page and make North Middlesex the best it can be."