NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – More than 550 high school and middle school students in North Salem played some sort of varsity, junior varsity or modified sport last year. The district’s interim athletic director, Denise Kiernan, is encouraging those student-athletes to think deeply about why they do.

Kiernan, who spent the last two years at Sleepy Hollow, was hired by North Salem on an interim basis in July. She’s replacing Henry Sassone, who spent more than three decades as North Salem’s athletic director.

Though she’s aware of the circumstances surrounding her predecessor’s ouster, Kiernan said she is more focused on the future than the past.

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“I am excited to learn the culture of North Salem and work with the student-athletes, staff, and community. I also want to highlight the great things accomplishments within the physical education and athletic programs,” Kiernan told North Salem News. “It is a great community. I am lucky and fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the students, staff, and community of North Salem.”

One of her first initiatives is “My Reason Why.” The campaign encourages student-athletes to share their stories of what high school sports mean to them. Kiernan said she wants to create video vignettes with the athletes and share their answers on the school district’s social media accounts.

“This is really important to me,” Kiernan said. “With the student-athletes, I will be focusing on ‘My Reason Why’ and work with the leaders (captains) to instill why a student-athlete participates in soccer or cross Country as a team or as an individual within their teams.”

Borrowing an idea from NYSPHSAA (New York State Public High School Athletic Association), Kiernan has also launched a Captain’s Club at North Salem. Captains of the varsity teams will meet on a regular basis to discuss their roles as leaders on their teams and in the community. They will also work on their “Reasons Why”—both personally and with their team—throughout the season.

“The captains will be mentoring middle school students throughout the year focusing on their ‘Reason Why’ and why they should participate in sports,” Kiernan said. “The captains will be attending middle school open house night as a result.”

Kiernan, who played Division I soccer at St. Bonaventure University (Allegany, N.Y.), said she wants to help students continue their athletic careers in college.

“I am hoping to educate the student-athletes, parents, and staff about the college-bound process,” Kiernan said. “Advocacy for themselves is an important focus for this process. The concept that the school, student-athletes, and parents working together indicates that everyone has a role.”

Though often shortened to athletic director, Kiernan’s actual title at North Salem is interim director of K-12 physical education and athletics.

Kiernan came to North Salem in July after spending two years at Sleepy Hollow. Before that, she was at the Glen Cove School District for seven years.

So, what was Kiernan’s reason why she left another Section 1 school to come to North Salem? What motivates her to commute 90 minutes every day from her home on Long Island?

“My reason why is to instill the concept of lifelong fitness within all students at North Salem,” Kiernan said. “Finding an activity or sport that they like and continuing this beyond the high school experience. Student-athletes may like sports because they are competitive or to simply be with their friends. Lifelong fitness is critical in the development of all students here at North Salem.”