Sunday, September 20, 2020

Person of the Week

Ray Degnan: Building Community On and Off the Field


Helping find pathways to success has been a passion for Ray Degnan, whether it be in the classroom or on the field. Photo courtesy of Ray Degnan

Helping find pathways to success has been a passion for Ray Degnan, whether it be in the classroom or on the field. (Photo courtesy of Ray Degnan )

When Raymond “Ray” Degnan III enrolled at Boston College for his bachelor’s degree, “I was dead set on becoming an attorney,” he says.

Luckily for the North Haven school district and Sacred Heart Academy, things did not go as planned.

As his education progressed and he had the opportunity to participate in a summer legal internship, Ray says that it “got to the point where I wanted to leave things open,” so he majored in English.

“I was happy and grateful for the [internship] experience, but I have never looked back since that time,” he says.

Ray finished his bachelor’s degree at Boston College, enrolling at Sacred Heart University the following December to earn an M.A. in teaching in 2007.

Shortly after graduating with his master’s, Ray was hired as an English teacher at North Haven High School (NHHS).

Although he has recently moved on from this position, in his 12 years as a teacher at NHHS, he taught students at various grade levels and abilities.

His accomplishments as an educator include collaborating with a reading specialist to pilot a program titled “Pathways.” This program allowed for some students to learn the same curriculum as their peers, but in a learning environment conducive to their individual strengths and weaknesses.

“One of the best parts of teaching is the recognition in 2019 that there are alternate routes for students to achieve success,” Ray says. “The program used the same books, same tests [and] papers, it just gave students an alternate pathway.”

Ray’s attention to the uniqueness of each student propelled the success of this program, along with the support of other teachers in the English Department.

“These [were] bright kids who [needed] to have an opportunity to flourish, just not in the standard 25-student classroom,” Ray says.

The rapport that Ray had with his fellow teachers, along with a feeling of being in a “close knit department,” as he described it, helped unify the team to accomplish their overall year-long goals and objectives of the English curricula.

His rapport with his students also made it “easier to push them not to be complacent in meeting goals and to exceed their potential,” he says.

Ray brought the same talent of relationship-building to his role as a coach in North Haven.

As head coach of the NHHS girls’ flag football team, Ray says it was a fulfilling experience for him to see senior-class girls come together at the NIKH bowl “with a common goal of having that one game be the most rewarding possible.”

He says, “It wasn’t the wins…It was that we left the field saying we gave it our all.”

Ray also coached NHHS girls’ varsity basketball, with his leadership style fueling the team’s progression to a win in the first round of the state tournament last year.

Some of the advice that he would give players, on all of his teams, includes, “do your job and focus on the aspects of athletics and life you control. Worrying about components outside your control is a waste of your time and effort. Do these things with passion and fervor and you can always be proud of your accomplishments,” he says.

In addition to flag football and basketball, he coached baseball as the varsity assistant coach and junior varsity head coach. He also acted as coordinator for the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Senior All-Star Game.

Ray’s involvement as a facilitator with Unified Sports, which helps mentally handicapped students participate in sports at NHHS, was a continuation of his dedication to this group of disadvantaged people as a college student.

In starting the Unified Sports program at NHHS, Ray says that he shared the same point of view as a special education teacher at the school, that “athletics can be a platform for friendships…where participants discover there are far more similarities than differences between them,” he says.

As a player in his youth, and as an adult, Ray heeds this philosophy.

“I have competed in athletics [for] as long as I can remember,” he says. “Little League and Biddy Basketball all the way up through continuing to play recreationally in the present. In the same way athletics forms lasting bonds in youth, it furthers bonds in adults.”

Although Ray set aside his coach’s clipboard this July to take his current position as director of athletics with the all-girls Catholic high school Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, his unwavering commitment to building connections within the school community is readily apparent.

“One of my priorities is making sure I talk to my coaches,” Ray says.

After pointing to the cost of running a department, he says, “to be present costs zero dollars, so it’s pretty rare for me not to be touching base.”

In addition to developing those personal relationships, Ray aims to help student athletes “get the recognition that they deserve…to let other people know [about] the time, dedication, and passion they put into it, is something I am happy to provide,” he says.

He thinks highly of the student body and says that student athletes “take on so much outside of athletics in addition to the rigorous academics…they encapsulate the Excelsior motto,” he says.

The school aims to challenge their student body to “strive every higher,” as written on the school’s website.

Ray himself aims to fulfill the school’s adage, saying, “to go over and above is something that I am trying to do as well.”

As he embeds himself into the culture of the school, Ray is pleased with an increase in the balance of work and family life that his new position brings.

He recently brought his daughter to a volleyball game at Sacred Heart Academy and says he enjoys exposing his four children to sports and seeing what their participation might mean to them one day.

Ray has lived in the town of North Haven for the past decade, was raised in Seymour and attended Fairfield Preparatory School.

In the time that he has spent in North Haven, he has enjoyed getting to know its character and taking part in some of the time-honored traditions such as the North Haven tree lighting.

With his wife, Kristen, being born and raised in town, Ray has planted himself firmly in the community along with her.

“In a word, North Haven has become home,” he says.

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email at .

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