Middlesex Borough native Mike O’Donnell faced an athletic dilemma.
Give up an athletic passion — coaching the Middlesex High baseball team — or become his alma mater’s athletics director. Up until Aug. 7, O’Donnell was coaching the Blue Jays’ summer league team that had competed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Coaches Summer League.
The next day the 32-year-old interviewed for the athletics director’s job opened when Rich Gianchiglia became principal at Hazelwood Elementary School.
O’Donnell was approved Monday night as athletics director by the Board of Education. O’Donnell replaces Gianchiglia, a former Middlesex football coach. He had been athletics director since taking over for Scott Walsh in December of 2008.
“I guess you have to grow up at some point,’’ added O’Donnell, the Blue Jays’ coach for eight years.
“It’s bittersweet, it was a lot of debate because you only get so many passions in life, but…,’’ added O’Donnell, who has young daughter, Brielle. O’Donnell and his wife, Tina, are expecting a son in January. “I was forced to make a decision and it wasn’t an easy one.’’
He coached Middlesex to two NJSIAA Group I state titles in 2007– his first with the program – and 2013, a Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title in 2012 and a 144-62 record. The Blue Jays have won five straight Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division titles.
“A lot of schools would like to have the success we had,’’ said O’Donnell.
Now he’ll be part of the process to find his replacement to sustain it.
“The program is right where we want it,’’ said O’Donnell.
Baseball is one of 26 sports he will supervise at the high school level. There are seven others at the middle school level.
“I have a lot of support, Denise (Calabrese) is a great administrative assistant, Richie is in the district and Scott Walsh (athletic director between 2001-’08), who’s the vice principal at the high school,’’ said O’Donnell, a 2000 Middlesex High graduate, played shortstop for the Blue Jays and went on to play shortstop at Kean University where he earned his bachelors (2004) and masters (2010).
O’Donnell taught physical education at Sayreville for five years before becoming a teacher at Middlesex. He also had a coaching stopover in Franklin where he was freshman coach, then JV coach the next year, taking over the varsity for a half season.