by Tom Utescher
Five years ago, all male Chestnut Hill Academy and all-female Springside School officially merged to form Springside Chestnut Hill Academy at the western end of Willow Grove Ave. The two neighboring schools had already been operating a coordinate program for some time, with upper school students enrolled in co-ed classes.
The last vestige of the two separate institutions remained evident in the department of athletics, where until the end of the 2016-2017 school year Mike DelGrande was Director of Athletics for the boys, and Tina O’Malley functioned in this role for the girls. They were based at the old CHA and Springside campuses, respectively, and had their own office staffs.
Springside Chestnut Hill has now combined those two posts to create one overall Director of Athletics position, and has hired David Wilson to launch the enterprise.
Wilson was raised in Maine and spent most of his life on the East Coast, but he actually came to Philadelphia directly from Texas, where he had been serving as Interim Director of Athletics at the Episcopal School of Dallas.
“They offered me the chance to stay on there,” he noted, “but my wife and I wanted to get back here to the Northeast.”
Wilson has been a coach and athletic administrator for 30 years in both high school and college settings.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to do what I love and make a living at it,” he said. “When I came here and met with Steve Druggan [SCH Head of School] and went through the interview process, we felt that this would be a good spot for us. I respect the history and tradition here, and we’re happy to join the community.”
The new A.D. will operate out of the offices located in the Vare Field House originally built by the old Springside School. They’re considerably more modern and spacious than the A.D.’s digs where the boys’ program was formerly based. Cheryl Fennessy, DelGrande’s hardworking administrative assistant, is staying on and is moving across the campus to work with Wilson.
The new director pointed out, “I’m glad that I’ll be able to work with Cheryl and the other people I’ve met here who know a great deal about the school and the athletic program. They’ll make the transition process a lot easier.
“There will be some consolidation of staff and we’ll be sorting out job responsibilities.” he continued. “There’s a lot of discussion and there will be some decisions to be made down the road. At first I just want to keep an open mind and settle in and observe things. I’ve met with a number of the coaches already and my feeling is that there’s a very good coaching staff already in place.”
Wilson’s belief in the benefits of an independent school education stem from personal experience. After spending his childhood in Maine, he had the opportunity to attend Tabor Academy in Massachusetts during his high school years. He now considers that a transformative period that helped him grow and mature in many ways.
He returned to Maine to enroll at Bowdoin College, where he wrestled and played lacrosse all four years and also played football as a freshman. He would then coach wrestling and lacrosse while also serving as a physical education instructor at the Hackley School in New York.
An eight-year tenure at Gettysburg College followed. There Wilson was head coach of the wrestling team, an assistant with the lacrosse team, and Assistant Athletic Director. He also taught health and wellness courses and physical education classes.
It was at Gettysburg that he met his wife, Ellen, a college administrator. Their three children were born there, but before long the family moved to Connecticut and the Canterbury School, where they would spend the next 19 years. While his wife was a member of the faculty, Wilson became Director of Athletics while continuing to coach wrestling.
In addition to his administrative duties at the school, over the years he was involved in organizing many local and regional athletic competitions and served with professional organizations in his field.
Circumstances changed when a new head of school at Canterbury arrived with her husband, who was put in charge of the athletic department. The Wilson’s youngest child, a son, had just graduated from high school and was becoming a cadet at West Point, so Wilson accepted the interim A.D. post that had opened up at the Episcopal School halfway across the country.
Contemplating a return to the East Coast all along, he interviewed for the job at SCH last December. He became one of three finalists in the selection process and was awarded the position a few months later. He visited the school in March soon after receiving the appointment.
He arrived in Philadelphia to stay at the end of the July 4 holiday weekend. For their first year at SCH, the Wilsons are renting a house nearby in Mount Airy, where their daughter will also live while attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. The couple’s older son lives in Boston.
During the interview process and subsequent discussions, Wilson was encouraged by his sense that the school’s goals for the athletic program aligned with his own.
“Speaking with Steve Druggan,” the new A.D. related, “what hit me is that he really understands the value of the athletic experience for young people. You want to teach skills and play to win, but the bigger picture involves developing your student athletes as well-rounded people and helping them mature.”
“I felt that with most of the people here,” he noted. “I felt that they were going to be supportive. There are great people here and great kids, and it’s my privilege to come in and try to help.”