A conversation with Westlake High School athletic director Tony Cipollone
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Westlake High School athletics had one of the most successful calendar years in 2012, with the Demons winning multiple individual state championships (boys and girls tennis), over half of the Southwestern Conference championships, hosting a home football postseason game, having many teams go deep into the postseason and who can forget the magical ride of the varsity baseball team going all the way to the school’s first appearance in the state championship game. With that said, West Life News (WL) caught up with the man in charge of putting all of the programs together, Tony Cipollone (TC).
WL – First off, I don’t ever remember one school having both the boys and girls state singles tennis champions in the same calendar year before. Both Colton Buffington and Lauren Golick had been so close over the last three years, and for both to finally get over the hump was amazing! Also, both the boys and girls teams won the Southwestern Conference.
TC – We don’t believe that it has been done either. Lauren and Colton are great examples of what a Demon athlete is. They are both so humble and the sportsmanship they show on a regular basis is unbelievable. Many times, student-athletes of their caliber can allow their ego to show through but not those two, they have what I like to say a “quiet confidence” in how they prepare and approach the game of tennis.
WL – How about the amazing run of the varsity baseball team all the way to the state finals in head coach Jeff Short’s final season?
TC – This was a truly magical season. It was a season that they make movies about. Coach Short had been such an instrumental influence not only on the field, but also in the classroom in Westlake. The boys on that team were just not going to let him lose. Time after time they came back and I am convinced that had we played three more innings in Columbus, we would have been state champions. The greatest thing about the team was that there was not one “superstar” on the team. It was a bunch of really good players who understood their role and who shared in the successes of each other. They knew that in order to reach where they wanted to reach they could not talk about “I” but could only talk about “we”.
WL – Your hiring of Shawn Hood to take over the boys basketball team, and have them become SWC co-champs (and sectional champs) in his first year, had to make you feel like the smartest man in the room. They seem like they have not lost a step so far this season also.
TC – I don’t know about the smartest man in the room, but anyone who talks to Shawn can immediately feel the enthusiasm he has for coaching young men. The style of basketball that he brought to Westlake was immediately crowd-pleasing. Shawn is intense but in a positive way. He always wants what is best for the student-athlete and he adjusts to each kid differently. I don’t know if anyone could have predicted the success he had in year one, but the transformation has now taken over fully and our stands are packed and the students are into it. He has not only affected the high school team, but because of his tireless efforts on the youth level, there is a big interest in basketball in grade school. All the kids know Coach Hood and they think he is one of the coolest cats around!
WL – The girls varsity basketball team, although they did not win the SWC (2nd), did go to the district finals, and pushed Magnificat for three quarters in the district championship game. They are also off to a fast start this season.
TC – This program continually wins and they do it because of the consistency in which they teach and coach. Head coach Chip Weiss, who is assisted by coach Art Daniels, coach Lynn Maugherman and coach Meghan Roche, form a true meaning of “program.” They reach out to the middle school athletes as well, and the “system” is known well by the time they are varsity athletes. The girls worked hard and fell just a little bit short, but again if you look at the overall idea of the kinds of students and citizens we are producing, we are proud of that program.
WL – The Demons did not win a conference championship in wrestling, but there were four district qualifiers last season.
TC – Wrestling is one sport that we are trying to develop here in Westlake. Times have changed in the sport and it is imperative to start with youth wrestling, to give them a good basic knowledge of the sport. With so many choices for kids to do, wrestling is one where you have to really start to understand the hard work that goes into the success at an early age. What is great is when the youth wrestling coaches and the middle school wrestling coaches can point to student athlete like Logan Paul, who became a state qualifier and say that is who we want you to be. Not only is Logan one of the best athletes in Westlake, but his work in the classroom leaves one speechless.
WL – This year, we have seen the transformation of Westlake’s extremely successful club ice hockey team, into a varsity program with great promise.
TC – Hockey is the newest sport, but again if you look at the makeup of the team, it is full of intense and smart young men. Head coach John Duke has just the right amount of toughness and understanding of where in the growth process the program is. The team competed to the tune of 20 wins last season and voluntarily stepped up to the middle division of the GCHSHL in order to continue that growth even if it meant fewer wins. As the trend is with most local hockey programs, their key to continued success will be to continue to gain numbers. Their organization, initially started by Fred Keppler and others, and now with Neil Greenberg, is a strong one with many community connections and we like their success so far.
WL – The turnaround of the football program, from a 4-6 team in 2011, to becoming the SWC champions in 2012 and hosting a playoff game, was truly amazing.
TC – I can’t say enough about the kids on this team and how they bought in to the hard work that it takes to accomplish all the things they did this season. When you look at the makeup of this team, it is made up of multi-sport athletes who knew what success was prior to the season. Our quarterback, Kent Axcell, played in the state championship baseball game and was also a member of the 20 win hockey team, our running back/linebacker, Logan Paul, also a state-qualifying wrestler, our slotback/receiver/defensive back, Shawn Turk also a member of the SWC Championship basketball team, our linebacker/fullback, Danny Strodtbeck, also a member of our SWC Championship basketball team and the starting pitcher in the state championship baseball game and Bryan McKenzie, our leading receiver, also a member of our SWC Championship basketball team. The example here is that winning breeds winning and success breeds success. Simply put, these athletes didn’t know anything other than winning and while it may have been unexpected for some to beat Avon Lake, to beat Olmsted Falls, to win the SWC title, these athletes led a team that expected to win and demanded that their team’s preparation in the weight room, film room and on the practice field be used towards that common goal. It was exciting and Coach Campo, Coach Deluca, Coach Shiban, Coach Bryant, Coach Kocar and the rest of the coaching staff think this is just the beginning.
WL – Both the boys and girls soccer teams won the SWC this fall, with the boys reaching the regional finals and the girls winning districts.
TC – When you have two highly successful coaches in Mike Besu (boys) and Scott Jones (girls), you know as an athletic director, that your programs are in good shape. These two coaches have demonstrated consistent success, all while staying mostly in the background and letting their talented kids be at the forefront. The girls, after losing a lot of really good players to graduation, had a surprising season and leaned on some veterans to carry the team through one of the toughest schedules in the area. I love the brand of physical soccer they play and other teams are not quite sure what to make of how hard we play. They lost a heart breaking regional semi-final game but with the experience they gained this season, I am sure they will be right back at it next year.
The boys team also had a surprising season! Again, they had some younger players step up to fill roles on the team and any time you have the Nick Wertman (SWC Player of the Year) on the field, you are not out of any game. They competed so hard and their loss in the regional finals was hard to watch. But when an athlete like Jamie Lackner steps up to become first team all SWC in goal, after helping to lead the baseball team to the state title game, it again demonstrates how success breeds success.
WL – We hope no teams or individuals were forgotten. Both you and Westlake High School have had an amazing calendar year, and we just want to make sure we let our readers know, or remind them, of it.
TC – Anytime anyone asks me about Westlake, I tell them that I am not sure there is a better place to raise a family. Everything you want, or need, can be found within the limits of the city. The schools are outstanding led by a great leader in Dr. Dan Keenan. For the athletic department, Dr. Keenan IS who you want to work for. He is at all of the different kinds of games, and being a former Division I athlete and high school coach, you can just feel his intensity. The recreation department, led by Bob Domenico, Jim Dispirito (WHS grad) and Mike Rump (WHS grad), do an awesome job of getting our kids active in all different kinds of sports and recreation. The recreation center is an outstanding facility and the plethora of field space is awesome as well. Our youth organizations, youth basketball (run through the rec. or our travel programs run through our schools), youth lacrosse, Westlake Soccer Association, Junior All-Star football, Westlake Baseball League (travel, softball and rec.) and so many others are made up of active and involved parents and volunteers who truly want the student-athletes of Westlake to be successful.
As the athletic director of a school district such as this, that offers more sports than 97 percent of the other school districts in Ohio, and boasts SWC MVP’s (three in the fall, Paul, Wertman, Golick) and a coaching staff that “Coaches for the W” (including three SWC coaches of the year, Campo, Jones, Dunbar) and with the upcoming new facilities, I feel very blessed to have had the successes that we have had. I also feel that we have only scratched the surface. There is still much work that can and will be done to become the “championship program” that Westlake deserves on an annual basis. As students and their families are looking at their options for attending school, it will become increasingly harder to ignore our brand new facilities, our state of the art high school and middle school. It will become harder to ignore the successes that I believe will continue not only in the athletic area but in the academic area as well. The mission of this district is that “We educate for excellence.” And we expect our teams to compete for excellence and show their Demon Pride always.
The Tony Cipollone file
For every championship program to be successful, it takes a key player, coach or administrator to be the “straw that stirs the drink”.
Tony Cipollone was an outstanding student, athlete and leader at Baldwin Wallace University in the late 1980s and early 1990s. From the time he arrived on campus in the fall of 1988 until he graduated in 1993, the political science major had a yearning to make a difference in athletics. The only difference now is that the 2004 B-W Alumni Athletic Association Hall of Famer is doing it as an athletic director and not as either a competitor or coach.
Cipollone had an impact on both the Yellow Jacket football and wrestling teams. In football, the burly fullback helped B-W compile a 30-9-2 record, win a pair of Ohio Athletic Conference titles and advance to the NCAA Division III Playoffs in 1991. He ran for 724 career yards and scored 12 touchdowns. The three-year letterman had a career-high 366 yards in 86 attempts with six touchdowns as a junior in 1990.
Cipollone was even more dominant in the sport of wrestling. The four-year letterman had a 110-27-2 career mark, which still ranks second at BW. That included two trips to the Division III National Championship Tournament, 13 individual tournament titles and nine individiual runner-up finishes. He was a four-time BW John Summa Memorial Tournament champion and its Most Valuable Wresler once. He also served as team captain for three years.
But it wasn’t his prowess on the football field or the wrestling mats that impressed most observers at BW. It was his ability to be a team-leader. Not only was Cipollone a talented student-athlete, he also excelled in the classroom and was a Dean’s List student.
Following graduation, he began his coaching career at B-W as an assistant wrestling and football coach from 1993 through 1995.
- 1995-2000: Muskingum College head wrestling coach, assistant football coach and SAAC advisor. He was the Ohio Athletic Conference wrestling Coach of the Year in 2000.
- 2001-08: Mercyhurst College head wrestling coach (2001-07), assistant athletic director for student services (2006-07), NCAA wrestling committee (2006-08, Division II chairman 2007-08) and associate athletic director (2007-08).
- 2008-10: Allegheney College associate athletic director.
- 2010- present: Westlake City Schools athletic director.