Keeling settles in as Chieftains’ athletic director

Keeling settles in as Chieftains’ athletic director

Former football/track and field standout takes over for Marcello

GLOCESTER – One of Ponaganset High’s greatest athletes from the 2000s is ready to lead his alma mater’s athletic department into this new decade.

Jake Keeling, who was a five-time First-Team All-Stater during a remarkable career with the Chieftains’ football, basketball, and track and field teams, is now the school’s athletic director.

Keeling, who was inducted into the PHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017, recently took over the vacancy left by Tom Marcello, who stepped down from the role in late July to become the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s new assistant executive director, and Keeling’s truly enjoying his new gig.

“Everything’s great,” Keeling said last Thursday. “Things are going well. Right now, our main priority is keeping the kids, the community, and everybody involved with Foster-Glocester regional schools safe and healthy, and we have to make sure everyone is safe before we can do anything else.”

Safety will indeed be a huge focus for athletic directors throughout this state, especially with workouts for the RIIL’s abbreviated fall season – minus football and girls’ and unified volleyball – beginning earlier this week.

Before Keeling can focus on hosting the school’s first athletic event of the 2020-21 school year, the cross country teams’ Northern Division quad-meet on Saturday, Oct. 3, at 9 a.m. against Cumberland, North Smithfield, Blackstone Valley Prep, and Davies, there is still plenty of work for him to do, especially when it comes to closely following the RIIL’s guidelines for the fall season.

“We’re getting ready for the approved sports for this fall, but again, my goal is making sure that everyone is safe and healthy,” he added. “It’s safety first, then making sure everyone’s academics are in order, and then athletics. That same order will always apply, no matter if its today, tomorrow, or in 20 years.”

In Keeling’s eyes, “athletics is obviously second to academics, as it always is. And something we always preach to our students, even when I was a coach, is that our goal for them is to be a better person, student, and community member, and then way down that list, to be a better athlete. We want our student-athletes here to graduate as better people.”

A native of Chepachet who currently resides in Dayville, Conn., Keeling graduated from Ponaganset in 2007 after enjoying a phenomenal athletic career. On the gridiron, he was a triple threat as a fullback (who scored 17 touchdowns as a senior), defensive end, and kicker, and on the hardwood, he was just as valuable.

But it was as a thrower in the Chieftains’ track and field program that saw Keeling receive a great deal of accolades, as well as a Division I scholarship to the University of Rhode Island. He captured three state titles in the shot put and one in the javelin, and in the latter event, he also earned Second-Team All-New England honors.

After Keeling graduated from URI in 2012, where he excelled in the shot put and javelin and became a four-time Atlantic-10 and three-time New England champion, he spent four years as a phys ed teacher, as well as several seasons in the coaching ranks.

He served as an assistant for the PHS football and track and field programs; in 2016, he became the boys’ head track and field coach, and for a year, he was the throws coach at Bryant University.

Thanks to his time at Ponaganset, “I have a grasp on how things have always operated here,” Keeling said. “I know a lot of the people who are involved with athletics, obviously through Tom and previous athletic directors, so it’s been a good run up here, and we want to continue that.”

Keeling also served as the school’s strength and conditioning coordinator for the last two years, and he helped draft ideas for the school’s new state-of-the-art weight room that rivals the best facilities in the region.

As for his new job, Keeling knows the first couple of months could present some challenges for him, but he has a large support staff that he can always lean on for advice.

“It’s not just Tom, it’s our principal, Renee Palazzo, and our superintendent, Michael Barnes,” Keeling added. “I’ve been to the Interscholastic League’s office and everybody there has been willing to help. And other ADs have reached out. That’s a very tight-knit community; they look out for each other and they’re willing to help out and answer any questions that you have. It’s a fantastic thing.”