Hall of Fame athletic director sought to put students first

Jim Piccolo will be inducted into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Talk to any of the coaches who served under Jim Piccolo during his tenure as the athletic director at Stanwood High School, and they all say the same thing.

Under Piccolo, the kids came first.

”The thing I learned first and foremost from Jim is to make every decision based on what’s best for kids,” said former Stanwood football coach Tom Boehme, who coached under Piccolo from 1989-2000. “Sometimes it’s not necessarily in line with the bureaucracy that exists in education. The bottom line is you do what’s right for kids each and every time.”

Piccolo was an advocate and innovator during his 23 years as Stanwood’s athletic director, and on Wednesday he enters the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame as the sports contributor member of the Hall’s 2019 induction class.

Piccolo, 67, was Stanwood’s athletic director from 1983-2006, serving as the school’s vice principal for the final 21 years of that stretch. During his time in charge of Stanwood’s athletic department he founded many of the programs that continue at Stanwood to this day, including the school’s 4A Booster Club, Athletic/Academic Awards Night, the annual coaches conference, and the school’s athletic training program. He was also a leader in establishing the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Piccolo’s greatest honor came in 2000, when the Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance named him its National Athletic Director of the Year.

On Wednesday he joins six athletes, one coach and one team in being inducted into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame during a banquet at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Angel of the Winds Arena.

“It’s quite an honor first of all, I’m quite humbled by it that they would think I did enough work out of Stanwood that they would honor me as a recipient,” Piccolo said about being inducted into the Hall of Fame. “By the same token, I want to make sure people understand this is really about the community, the kids who went through the school, and the parents. This is their award, I just happen to be the one receiving it.”

Piccolo, a native of Bellingham, first arrived at Stanwood in 1975 when, fresh out of Washington State University, he was hired as a senior social studies teacher, head baseball coach and assistant football and wrestling coach. He left in 1982 for Idaho State University, where he planned on joining the football coaching staff. But while he was there he earned his certificate in athletic administration, and a year later he returned to Stanwood to succeed his mentor, Ron Hendricks, as the school’s AD.

Upon taking over Piccolo began implement his philosophy, which included hiring coaches who were also teachers, building relationships with members of the community outside the school’s walls, involving the middle school coaches and fostering the idea of students playing more than one sport.

All of which was done with the goal of improving the student experience.

“Probably his greatest strength was how he brought all the pieces of the community together to give students the best experience possible,” said Nate DuChesne, who coached boys basketball at Stanwood from 1997-2005. “He was a guy who could bring people together of all different backgrounds and make they feel important and that they were doing something for the betterment of student-athletes.”

Under Piccolo’s stewardship Stanwood also became relevant at the state level. From 1982-92 the Spartans didn’t have a single state qualifier in a team sport. The following 11 years Stanwood had 18 teams reach state, with at least one qualifier every year except one. That success was program-wide, as eight different team sports reached state (softball, volleyball, girls basketball, football, girls soccer, baseball, boys soccer, boys basketball). The Spartans brought home five state trophies during that stretch, with both the football team and boys basketball team reaching the state semifinals.

“He was always visible at contests,” said Tom Wilfong, who coached wrestling at Stanwood from 1990-2006. “Every AD goes to everything, but Jim thoroughly enjoyed it. He loved watching tennis, or going to swim meets, or baseball games, basketball, wrestling, whatever it was he was going to be around.

“He had a presence, and kids liked him,” Wilfong added. “Whether he was yelling at you or patting you on the back, kids always knew he had their best intentions at heart. When I think of Jim, I used to tease him about his walk. Whenever he was on campus he was always full throttle. He had this lean, with his arms pumping and going. That was the way he was, he was full speed everywhere.”

That energy manifested itself in Piccolo being involved beyond Stanwood. Piccolo was heavily involved at the state level, where he was a longtime member of the Washington State Athletic Administrators Association’s board, including serving as president. He was also involved at the national level, traveling the country to help train athletic administrators as part of the Leadership Training Institute.

Piccolo’s influence was such that several of his coaches followed him into academic administration. Wilfong succeeded Piccolo as Stanwood’s athletic director, DuChesne is now the principal at Mariner High School, Boehme became the principal at Centralia High School, and longtime volleyball coach Keri Von Moos went on to be the principal at Port Susan Middle School in Stanwood.

In 2006 Piccolo stepped down from Stanwood, but he remained in the field as he spent 12 years as the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s District 1 director before retiring from the position last year.

“It wasn’t about winning,” Piccolo said about his career at Stanwood. “We wanted to win, but that wasn’t the focus. The focus was on providing good, quality programs for the kids to come out, and I could never say enough about all the people who made that happen.

“It was a great run.”

If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at npatterson@heraldnet.com.

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