Winning wrestling coach, head of English Department named athletic director in Ponaganset

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GLOCESTER – A high school teacher who the school department notes is also, “one of the winningest coaches in New England wrestling,” has been named the new director of the Ponaganset Athletic Department.

Wrestling coach Mike Joyce will assume the one-year, part-time position, previously held by Jacob Keeling.

Joyce, an Ohio native, became head coach for the PHS program in 2015, leading the Chieftains to their first state title in the team’s four decade history in the 2017/2018 school year. That year, the team also won the New England championship, and Joyce was named Providence Journal Male Coach of the Year.

In a post on the hire, the high school Chieftains noted that over his eight year coaching career, Joyce has mentored 21 state champions, 34 state finalists and 54 state placers. Four of his wrestlers have been New England champions and two have been nationally ranked, while six have been named National High School All-Americans.

At the team level, Joyce has brought home four Division I titles; three state runner-up finishes; two state titles, two New England titles and coached one nationally-ranked team.

“Mike has extensive experience in navigating the college recruitment process,” noted the athletic program. “He has produced seven Division I commits in the last six years, five of them going to the Ivy-league.”

In 2021, Joyce moved into the assistant coach position, while head coach Steve Mineo took the lead role.

Joyce has also excelled in the classroom as a 22-year teacher, and currently serves as chairman of the PHS English Department. He will reportedly continue to teach while taking on the part time role leading athletics.

“His focus on academic excellence producing 44 Academic All-State Recipients since 2018, and his experience building and developing successful teams at the youth, middle, and high school levels will augment an already strong athletic program,” noted the district.

The news was well-received, with dozens of students and parents commenting on Joyce’s character and commitment to students.

The hire is considered a positive development following a year that saw several incidents casting a negative light on athletics at the regional school, serving students from both Foster and Glocester. In June, NRI NOW published a story on the results from a state Attorney General investigation at the high school after three students filed complaints alleging racial discrimination, with much of the focus on incidents related to athletics. Supt. Renee Palazzo submitted a report to the state office earlier this year documenting changes implemented to address the concerns at the regional school.

Several parents contacted NRI NOW following the exclusive story, stating racist and derogatory comments were still an ongoing problem in Ponaganset athletics, at both the high school and middle school. And a letter to members of the School Committee from one parent in July alleged that more than two dozen complaints regarding Joyce’s predecessor, former Athletic Director Keeling, who held the position since 2020, had been sent to Palazzo. Keeling’s mother, Beth Keeling, serves on the Foster Glocester School Committee, leading some to lobby claims of nepotism.

Joyce, meanwhile, was been deemed an, “excellent” choice by dozens of parents this week. As Ponaganset athletes marked the official start of the fall season, with first practices for football, volleyball, cross country, soccer and tennis on Monday, feedback was overwhelmingly positive – at least in online forums.

“We couldn’t ask for better,” noted Renee Diorio following the announcement on Monday, August 14. “He has helped so many kids academically, athletically and personally. He pushes these kids to do their best in all ways and holds them accountable.”

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