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New athletic director works to help Pallotti earn an 'A'

By David Driver, davidsdriver@aol.com

August 29, 2013

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New St. Vincent Pallotti athletic director Rick Diggs has been in his new role for less than two months, and has already spearheaded one of the most transitional periods in years — or decades — at the small coed Catholic school in downtown Laurel.

Right off the bat, Diggs had to hire boys and girls varsity basketball coaches, which resulted in Dennis Murphy (boys) and Rod Hairston (girls), who led Eleanor Roosevelt to five state public-school Class 4A titles from 2005 to 2009, being tabbed.

That's not all.

He also must find coaches for boys and girls swimming, boys and girls tennis and girls lacrosse after bringing Annesia Faulkner, a former Pallotti standout who played at the University of Maryland, on board for girls soccer.

"We have never had that many (new coaches) in one time," says Diggs, 65, who has held a variety of roles at Pallotti since 1994. "You have to find a person who is doing this not to supplement their income, someone that is interested in working with kids. We don't turn over a lot of teachers."

Diggs certainly is no stranger to athletics, either at Pallotti or in the Baltimore region. He spent 20 years as the executive director of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) before taking the AD spot at Pallotti July 1. Pallotti is a member of the MIAA in boys athletics while the girls play in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM).

He was the vice president of operations at Pallotti before tackling his new role as the director of athletics and facilities, replacing Steve Walker, now the school's dean of students.

"It is not where it needs to be," Diggs said of the Pallotti athletic department. "We want to be competitive and we would like to have all our teams in the A conference" of the MIAA or IAAM.

That said, Diggs is the type of person willing to take on a challenge.

The only teams in the A level of the MIAA or IAAM this academic year are girls volleyball and girls basketball. The Pallotti football team was 3-7 last season under coach Rick Peacock and began this season with a win over Silver Oak Academy on Aug. 23. The Panthers compete in the C Conference.

Paul O'Brien, the former softball coach at Pallotti, taught religion for many years at the school. He said Diggs should do well as the athletic director.

"I could not have been happier to have worked with Steve Walker as my athletic director," said O'Brien, who recently finished his first season as the head softball coach at Division II Seton Hill University in western Pennsylvania. "But I think Rick will do a good job there, too. He was the interim principal a few years. He definitely knows how things work there and how things get done. I have always trusted him. I always felt he was someone you could talk to."

Shae Johnson, the former dean of students and boys varsity basketball coach, is no longer at the school. Josh Pratt, the girls varsity basketball coach for the past four years, is now an elementary school teacher in Lanham and in line to be the head boys basketball coach at a public charter school in Anne Arundel County.

"I have known (Diggs) since 1995," Pratt said. "We are good friends. He has seen me go from a JV coach to the varsity boys basketball coach at Towson Catholic."

Diggs reports to principal Jeff Palumbo, who has extensive background as a baseball coach at Catholic schools.

"He is very proactive. He wants to be competitive in athletics," Diggs said.

"He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge with him," Palumbo said. "The kids absolutely love Rick. He has been just about everything here at Pallotti. He has been a big part of Pallotti."

Diggs said he grew up in rather modest means in southwest Baltimore. His father, Reese Wilson "Diggsy" Diggs, went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA pitching for the Washington Senators in 1934 and died in Baltimore at the age of 63 in 1978.

The younger Diggs attended what is now Loyola Blakefield in Towson. While he admits he was not an exceptional student, had had the opportunity to attend Division III Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), where he played baseball and football.

"I was a pretty good high school football player," he says. "Western Maryland made it financially affordable for me to go there. I wanted to go to a place where I could play both sports."

He was a physical education major in college. "It got in my blood," he said of teaching athletics.

Diggs graduated from Western Maryland in 1970 and was inducted into the school's athletic hall of Fame in 2008. He spent 13 years with Carroll County public schools and was the athletic director for six years at Liberty High in Eldersburg.

Now a fixture at Pallotti, Diggs doesn't anticipate adding any sports in the near future. A major goal for Pallotti is having its own field for football, soccer and other sports.

For now, the school uses a field at Fairland Regional Park in west Laurel for home football, soccer and lacrosse games.

"That is a big dream. We have been working on it for two or three years," Diggs said.