Mandeville — Come November, when the Mandeville High School basketball team takes the court for its opening game, a familiar face will be missing.
John Priola, who has coached the Skippers for the past 17 years and also served as the school’s athletic director, is becoming a full-time administrator at Mandeville. At Thursday’s monthly St. Tammany Parish School Board meeting, Priola was named assistant principal, and he said he will no longer have time to work in the athletics department.
“It was about timing. This position came open here at Mandeville, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” he said. “It was a chance at a promotion, and I’m at a time in my life where I wanted to become a school leader.”
Priola, 51, has spent the past five years as an administrative assistant, “being groomed” for the position of assistant principal, he said. He leaves coaching just as his third son, Jeremy, graduates from Mandeville. During an 11-year period, Priola coached all three of his sons, including Johnny, who graduated in 2005, and Joshua, who graduated in 2009.
While he will be missed courtside, his presence in the administrative office will be very welcomed. With a projected enrollment next year of 1,800 — the largest in the parish and one of the largest in the state— Principal Bruce Bundy said the school was in need of a fourth assistant principal, and Priola was perfect for the job.
“He has been a huge help to this administration, including the last five (as disciplinarian),” Bundy said. “… It will be very different without him (courtside), though. John is very passionate about coaching and very animated. I think some people came to the game just to see him coach.”
St. Tammany Schools Superintendent Trey Folse, who once was an assistant basketball coach at Salmen High, said Priola “has been dedicated to the students and athletes at Mandeville High for many years” and that “his experience and commitment make him a valuable member of the administrative team.”
Priola began his career as an assistant at Trist Middle School in Chalmette during the 1984-85 school year. He then moved a few of miles up the road to Holy Cross the next season as an assistant, before spending the next 10 as head coach of the Tigers. In 1996, he took over for the Skippers, where he won two district titles and made it as far as the quarterfinals in 2009, with surprising defeats of Jesuit and South Lafourche in the playoffs as a No. 24 seed.
Other than coaching his sons, one of his fondest memories as a coach, he said, was while at Holy Cross in a 15-11 loss to future NBA player Kerry Kittles and national power St. Augustine. After being “blown out the first time we played them that season, we did it my way the second time. We practiced stalling, and we didn’t even put the goals down the whole week. I think I got more praise about that loss than any other game I coached.”
Bundy said he hopes to have a new basketball coach in place by next week, although hiring an athletic director “will take a bit longer.” He said he will first look from within to fill both positions.