Frank Cardona’s professional journey has come full circle.
Cardona began his teaching and coaching careers in Portland before making stops in Newington, Hartford, and West Hartford.
In July he returned to his small town roots, taking over as the new athletic director at Portland’s high school and middle school.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come back to Portland. It was the perfect job,” said Cardona, also an assistant principal at the school.
Cardona graduated from Providence College in 1993 before teaching Spanish at the old middle school in Portland — now Brownstone Intermediate School — and coaching girls’ soccer at Portland High School.
Following five years in Portland, Cardona went to teach and coach in Newington before working as an administrator at CREC Greater Hartford Academy of Arts High School in Hartford and Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford.
During that time he had obtained a master’s degree and 6th year from Central Connecticut State University.
Cardona credits his time spent at the larger school districts in the Hartford area with helping him expand his horizon, yet
Cardona’s passion remained in the quaint communities that shaped him as a person. He was raised in East Hampton after moving with his family to the Belltown from El Salvador when he was nine years old.
“Having grown up in East Hampton and being familiar with small towns, there are values that are just part of the community,” said Cardona, who jumped at the opportunity to return to Portland. “I love Portland. It broke my heart to leave here. I needed to see what else was out there, but Portland has always had such a special place in my heart. It is such a great town with great people and the sense of community here is wonderful.”
Working at a secondary level and staying around athletics was important to Cardona, who played semi-professional soccer while in Providence.
Cardona replaces Jennifer Bell, who served as the school’s Athletic Coordinator last year on top of her normal position as a math teacher at the middle school.
Prior to Bell, Chris Serra served as the school’s athletic director for six years.
Cardona said he is appreciative of Bell for making his transition to the position a smooth one.
“Jen did such a great job at showing me the details and all the ins and outs.” added Cardona. “Last year she took on all the duties of being an athletic director on top of teaching. She worked so hard.”
In his role of as athletic director, Cardona will manage all facets of an athletic program, including scheduling, hiring coaches, promoting programs and events, ordering equipment, constructing budgets, and facilitating operations for both the middle and high school in Portland.
One of the unintended benefits of coming back to a school district after two decades is that Cardona is now around students that are the sons and daughters of students he coached and taught in Portland during his first stint.
Cardona called the family connection one of the “great character traits of a small community” and said that it has allowed him to maintain those connections he made over 20 years ago.
“I always pride myself on getting to know as many students as possible. You go into education to build those relationships and I’ve always enjoyed making those connections,” added Cardona. “Towns like Portland give you that opportunity to see that we did create contributing members of society.”
Upon taking the position, Cardona reflected on his journey and what he wanted to implement into the athletic programs at both the middle school and high school. He came up with two key components — “effort and grit.”
“I believe that both of those traits are something that will help you the rest of your life,” said Cardona, who has shared his message with his coaches, student athletes, and their families. “You always have to give your best effort no matter what you are doing. Grit because life is hard and you have to have the mental and physical strength to face adversity.”
He continued, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, but the fight has to be there. The only way you can get through life is to face challenges and work to overcome them or learn from them.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin