HARTFORD, Conn. – You don’t need to be a math whiz to know that Nicole Silenok is in rarified air.
The John Jay High School alum, who also teaches high school math, is just one of two women coaching varsity boys soccer in the state of Connecticut. Last fall, Silenok completed her first year as head coach at the University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford.
Not only did the Hawks win the Class L Conference championship, but the math teacher was nominated by her school for Teacher of the Year. In both teaching and coaching, Silenok said she wants to see everyone reach their full potential.
“I teach math and it’s a subject that kids tend not to like,” Silenok said. “I just like helping kids to see their full potential and to show them that they’re capable of doing things such as learning math or excelling at soccer, whatever it might be. So, I really thrive on the relationship piece with my students and my athletes.”
Silenok has taught at the 400-student magnet school for six years and started teaching there immediately after graduating in 2013 from the University of Hartford, where she studied mathematics and secondary education. She also played on the school’s Division 1 women’s soccer team after starring for four years at John Jay. She led her high school team in scoring from 2007 to 2009 and also led the Indians in assists her senior season. Silenok, a two-time All-Section and three-time All-League selection, helped lead John Jay to league titles in 2008 in 2009.
During college, she was also a student teacher at UHSSE, where she now teaches geometry and a college readiness STEM class. She joined the soccer team during her second year of teaching, first as a volunteer and later as assistant coach. She was named head coach for the fall 2019 season after Matthew Shea, the former head coach, became the school’s athletic director. Silenok found going from assistant coach to head coach to be a little more difficult than expected.
“I went into it thinking this is going to be easy,” Silenok said. “I already know all of the boys. I’ve been working with most of them for the last three, four years. But then when you’re actually in that position and you’re responsible for 25 boys and you have to come up with the practice plans and transportation plans and talking with parents and trying to regulate attitude or get team bonding stuff going—it’s just a lot of behind the scenes stuff that you don’t really know about until you’re put in that position…It was very eye opening actually being in that role but I definitely took a lot away from it that I hopefully can implement this fall if we’re back this fall.”
Although the players looked up to Shea and were saddened by his departure, Silenok has attempted to bring the same energy to the position as her predecessor did. Silenok said she has not been on the receiving end of any sort of gender discrimination, but her unique position as a female coaching boys soccer sometimes weighs heavy on her mind.
“Sometimes I can get in my head a little bit and think that when I’m meeting a coach of another team they’re thinking, ‘Oh look at this young girl coaching this team,’” Silenok said. “They didn’t say anything but, in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, maybe that’s what they’re thinking.’”
If the soccer season is canceled or postponed, Silenok is hoping to maintain camaraderie through virtual training, Google Classrooms, or Google Hangouts. She said she is happy to be teaching and coaching in the same city where she attended college, and she hopes her team will have an opportunity to repeat as league champions.