ORCHARD LAKE — Although the Catholic League’s five new athletic directors settling in for the 2021-22 school year bring a mix of experience to their jobs, one thing they all share in common is a passion for Catholic League education.
Among the five, Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart’s Paige Comito and Madison Heights Bishop Foley’s Mike Maltese are first-time athletic directors. However, this will not be their first year at their respective schools. Comito is a Sacred Heart “lifer” who served as an understudy to the retiring Sal Malek last year, while Maltese is a Catholic school graduate who has taught at Bishop Foley for six years.
Comito returned to her roots after serving as a school psychologist and coach at several schools around Chicago.
“With COVID, it was just time (to come back home),” she said. “It was a really great opportunity. I never thought I’d return to Michigan, but it was the right opportunity and the right time, and I obviously have a love for Sacred Heart.”
Meanwhile, Maltese brings a familiarity with his school, the student body, and school sports into his new role.
“The position just kind of opened up and I’ve always looked to do this,” he said. “I’ve definitely had some great athletic directors in the past, and I can take some good things from them. I’ve also had some athletic directors with some different things that they maybe fell short on, so I’m excited to put my thumbprint on the Bishop Foley athletic department as a whole.”
Comito graduated from Sacred Heart in 2005 and played on two state-champion lacrosse teams under the late coach Vicki Oakley. Since then, she has coached lacrosse and field hockey — two sports that make up a large part of the school’s athletic identity — but also acknowledges the sports landscape has changed significantly since then.
“I think Sacred Heart has really struggled with enrollment over the last 10 years or so, which has impacted our athletic teams, but I do feel we are on the uptick, and as our enrollment improves, our sports teams will get stronger and stronger,” Comito said.
As a small school, Sacred Heart has increasingly relied on co-op programs — joining forces with other nearby Catholic schools in order to provide additional athletic opportunities for its students. Under Malek’s watch, Sacred Heart students have been able to swim with Bishop Foley and play soccer with Clarkston Everest Collegiate, showing achievements in each.
“One of our soccer players is going on to play in college. We had an all-state swimmer who is actually a Sacred Heart student who swims for Bishop Foley, and that was pretty exciting,” Comito said. “The co-op between Everest and Sacred Heart is really positive. Not only does it bring two school communities together, but it’s also allowed some conversation about bringing in some different sports.”
Comito was also upbeat when discussing Sacred Heart’s more traditional sports.
“Even though we had a really crazy year last year with COVID, we still had a successful year in athletics,” she said. “We won a state championship for tennis; we won the Catholic League championship for field hockey; we won the Catholic League championship for soccer; soccer also won districts. We did pretty well for what we have.”
Meanwhile, Maltese also brings a familiarity with the Catholic League to his new post.
“I do have a background in Catholic education,” he said. “I went to St. Angela grade school in Roseville, then I went four years at Harper Woods Notre Dame, which has been closed several years now. I also played five sports when I was at Notre Dame, so I’m familiar with different sports. I know the different types of parents that you deal with and the different types of obstacles that you run into, but overall, I’m excited for the new opportunity.”
He’s taken his hockey career the farthest, with coaching stops at Warren DeLaSalle, Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett.
“I’ve got the experience coaching; once this opportunity came up, it was an easy transition for me,” Maltese said.
Maltese succeeds Tony DeMare, a former Dearborn Divine Child athletic director who came out of retirement to fill the opening when predecessor Brian Hassler took the post at Rochester Adams mid-year.
“Brian Hassler’s been a great resource for me; he’s always been a great, great friend of mine as well,” Maltese said. “We started at the same time. He was the AD there in my first year as a teacher there, we were kind of bouncing ideas off of each other. I learned a lot from him and his passion for the job. The joke was that Brian literally lived there. He put his heart and soul into it; hopefully I can bring the same type of enthusiasm into the position.”
Although a full-time athletic director, Maltese’s duties also include managing rentals of the school’s athletic fields.
“It is turning into a beautiful facility,” he said. “We got the turf field several years back, and we’ve started making upgrades to the gymnasium. We had the weight room revamped a few years back. We’re making small progresses for the overall athletic department.
“It’s going to be fun to be part of it all.”
Three others with solid Catholic school experience also take new posts as athletic directors this fall. Warren De La Salle head football coach Dan Rohn will add the AD role; he held both roles simultaneously at Grand Rapids West Catholic last decade.
Mike Watson, who previously served De La Salle as its athletic director, moves across town to fill the vacancy at Bloomfield Hills Marian, succeeding the late David Feldman, who passed away after contracting COVID-19 last winter. This will be Watson’s 23rd year as an athletic director.
Brandon Malinowski takes the reigns at Farmington Hills Mercy. Malinowski is a true Catholic League insider, most recently having served the league as an assistant director of athletics. He had previously been an ice hockey and softball coach at Mercy. In addition, he succeeds his mother, Nancy, who retired this summer after serving as the Marlins’ AD for 30 years.