Peabody’s Sheridan moves to a new beginning

Peabody athletic director Phil Sheridan is stepping down from his current role on June 30. 


PEABODY — Phil Sheridan says it was just time.

“I’ve loved this job,” says Sheridan, who will retire as the city’s athletic director at the end of the month. “I went here, I bleed Peabody blue.

“But,” he said, “the hours can be a little rough. Sometimes, especially in the winter, I’m getting here at 8 in the morning and not going home until 9:30 at night.

“I guess it’s time,” said Sheridan, with a smile, “to let someone else have all the fun.”

Sheridan started teaching back in the 1980s at St. John’s Catholic Elementary School in Peabody Square.

“At the time,” he said, “Prop 2½ had just been passed, and physical education programs were being cut. So I got one there.”

Within very little time, he’d worked his way up to the high school, where he taught PE and coached track. Finally, upon the resignation of George Smyrnois in 1998, Sheridan became the athletic director and, for good measure, also became the director of health and physical education.

When he leaves the high school on June 30, Sheridan will step into a job he’s always loved — teaching children. He’ll teach physical education at Lowell Catholic, and will also set up a middle school athletic program there as well.

However, it’s the physical education aspect of his job that intrigues him going forward.

“We’ve always taught here that athletics do a tremendous amount of things for a student. But one of the things they don’t really teach is how to be really physically fit.

“So,” he said, “we do a lot of that stuff.”

The days of rolling a ball out onto the gym floor and letting kids play aimlessly are over, he said.

“We don’t do street hockey anymore,” he said.

Instead, the games are geared more toward the simple enjoyment of moving around.

“We want to make sure there’s activity all the time,” he said.

In the Peabody physical education curriculum, which encompasses grades 9-11, there’s also a nutrition class “so that when the kids get into their 20s, and all the junk they’ve eaten starts to catch up with them, they’ll know what to do,” Sheridan said.

As an athletic director, Sheridan felt his role was to work for the coaches instead of the other way round.

“Definitely,” he said. “I always considered it my job to make their lives as easy as possible, because that way the kids could succeed. In the end, the kids are what’s important. I always liked it better when no one knew who I was, because that meant things were running well.”

Still, he made his mark. For the first two years as AD, Sheridan doubled as the cross country, indoor and outdoor track coaches. But he realized early on that it was a lot to bite off, so he gave up the coaching to concentrate on administration.

“When I was coaching,” he said, “I’d be in the locker room every day, and I was accessible to the kids. After I stopped, and became one of those guys in a shirt and tie, I had to find a way to make myself accessible.”

Thus was born the Captains’ Council — in which the captains of all the teams met periodically to air grievances and discuss ideas.

“We taught them a lot about leadership,” said Sheridan, “not only what it takes to be a leader, but some of the things you don’t do if you’re going to be a leader.

“I also wanted to make sure they had somewhere they could go to express their concerns,” he said. “I’d tell them ‘how can I fix what’s concerning you if I don’t know about it?’ So it taught them how to, in a respectful way, stand on their own.”

That was always a big concern with Sheridan — the ability of the athletes to stand up for themselves. He rarely got involved in a coach/player dispute because he wanted the player to address the situation directly with the coach.

“That’s important — to stand on your own,” he said. As a result, in Peabody there is a protocol for dealing with these coach/player situations and the first one is a meeting between the two.

“If that doesn’t work,” he said, “then we’ll get the parents involved and, finally, if nothing else works, I’ll get involved.”

It’s a family affair for the Sheridans at Peabody High. His wife, Alicia Marquis Sheridan, is a language teacher there and their daughter, Dana, graduated earlier this month and will attend UMass Lowell in the fall to study music.

And he has always treated the school as an extended family. Last week, he was recognized for his work on behalf of the Moynihan Lumber Student-Athlete program, where rarely a month went by without a Peabody nominee.

He has a simple explanation.

“I treated every team, no matter what it was, as if it was the most important team in the school when I was dealing with it,” he said.

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