By Gary Adornato and Sue Thompson (amended Tuesday, July 10, 2018)
To say the Our Lady of Mount Carmel athletic program has grown and prospered during Mike Naunton’s tenure as athletic director would be an understatement of massive proportion.
Naunton arrived at the small Catholic school, located in Essex and attached to the neighborhood Catholic parish of the same name, in 1992 as a teacher and the school’s baseball coach. Soon thereafter he became Assistant Athletic Director and in 1998 he began what would become a run of two decades as the school’s top athletic administrator.
In the time since, he has led the Cougars to a pair of MIAA B Conference baseball championships and was instrumental in the addition of football, men’s and women’s lacrosse and wrestling to the school’s athletic offerings. The school’s boys’ basketball program won titles in the MIAA C and B Conferences before becoming the school’s first ever MIAA A Conference program and entering the prestigious Baltimore Catholic League. During the 2014-15 season, the boys’ basketball team reached the pinnacle, achieving a No. 1 ranking in VSN Boys’ Basketball Top 20, the first time a Mount Carmel team had ever been ranked No. 1 in any sport. Their wrestling program has now won two consecutive MIAA B Conference crowns and there have been numerous other successes on the boys and girls sides.
Naunton reflected on his connections, commitment and candor regarding the IAAM, "I can recall going to the initial IAAM meetings where we merged the AIS and the Catholic League, and am proud to have been a part of the history of this league. The state of women's sports in Baltimore has been significantly enhanced by the work of all those involved in the IAAM. The great thing about our league is that is not only provides young women with the opportunity to compete against each other, but initiatives such as the Leadership Conference and the Character Coin allow us to see the best in our young people. These are things I believe are unique to an all women's league."
Naunton went on to say, "As a school we were very fortunate to become part of the IAAM, the IAAM gave us a competitive conference for all of our women's sports teams. Over the past twenty years our school has been fortunate to compete in IAAM championship games for soccer, volleyball, basketball, indoor soccer and softball. The fantastic sites and pageantry of these events have made for special memories for our girls."
"One of the things I have enjoyed the most about my time as athletic director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been watching our young ladies compete and represent our school. Being an AD at a co-ed school gives you the best of all worlds, and the pride and emotion that our young women play with is something I am proud of. I have been able to hoist an IAAM championship bowl as both a coach (basketball 2006) and most recently softball (2017) and these are memories I will never forget", said the reflective administrator.
Those achievements have not gone unnoticed by OLMC President Larry Callahan, who is entering his third year at the school and he has tabbed Naunton to take a new role to help the school execute an aggressive growth schedule. Naunton now has a fancy new title, Special Assistant to the President for Capital Projects and Facilities, and will be responsible for assisting in the overall growth of the school as he has done in the athletic program. To replace Nauton in the athletic office, Callahan has selected Alex Brylske, a Mount Carmel lifer and the school’s head boys’ lacrosse coach, a role he will maintain.
In his new role, Naunton will be meeting with vendors and contractors, as he oversees capital projects to make sure they progress and get done. Already, he has been involved with improvements to the school’s chemistry lab, wiring of the building for Chrome Books, upgrades to exterior doors, and planning upcoming improvements to the school’s dining hall.
“Mike’s been our athletic director for many years and he’s brought a lot to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but I see other talents that he has,” said Callahan. “We’re doing a lot of things here at Mount Carmel. We just finished the air conditioning, we want to do turf fields and many other things. I need somebody to manage those projects and stay on top of it. He’s got a lot of talent for that. He’s a bull dog and he’ll get it done.”
Naunton is excited about the new career challenge and an opportunity to preserve Mount Carmel for coming generations.
“The thing that excites me. I feel bad for the students and alumni of some of the school’s in the area that have closed,” said Naunton. “My son goes here. I had another son go here and I have former students, like Alex, and some of our other coaches, and I want them to have a school to come back to for reunions. I want them to have a school to bring their children back and say this is where I went.”
Naunton sees the work he has done in athletics as integral to the school’s survival and growth.
“We’ve added several programs. When I started we did not have lacrosse; we did not have football; we did not have wrestling,” said Naunton. “Adding men’s and women’s lacrosse, adding wrestling, adding football, those things have helped the school grow.
“We also have a tremendous sports medicine program, where our athletic trainers have put together a program, with a curriculum, that kids can apply for and be a part of. We’re seeing those kids go on to college and study in the various medical fields. And, anyone who gets into sports is competitive, so watching our teams be successful and compete is always a very proud moment.”
Of course there have been tough times as well. Several years ago, Naunton battled and beat prostate cancer. He had to be comforter and chief in 2010 when popular basketball star John Crowder was gunned down in a Northeast Baltimore shooting, just as he had done in 2002 when the school was crushed by the tragic passing of Michelle Bevans, a junior cheerleader at the time, after a long battle with cancer.
“The whole thing about Mount Carmel is that when you join us, you are joining a community,” said Naunton. “When I was sick, the school rallied around me and we have all rallied for each other. The people that get the most out of Mount Carmel buy into the community.”
Brylske is a product of the Mount Carmel community, literally.
He entered the school as a pre-scholar and remained an OLMC student through his high school graduation in 2009 and he was a standout with the soccer, wrestling and lacrosse programs. He went on to play four years of lacrosse at St. Mary’s College (MD), before returning to Mount Carmel in 2014 as a long-term substitute. The following year he was hired as a full-time teacher and began coaching with the middle school soccer, wrestling and lacrosse teams, before Naunton hired him to lead the boys’ lacrosse program.
Brylske has been guided, from the very beginning by Naunton.
“My relationship with Mike started with his mom. She was my first teacher,” said Brylske. “My younger brother is the same age as Mike’s oldest son and they were friends. So, I had a personal relationship with him before a professional one. He was someone who provided me with opportunities when I was a student, and moving into high school, he was someone I could always talk to, about any issue I might be having. His office door was always open. And, he gave a beautiful introduction for my Valedictorian speech, and I still think about that today.”
“Alex is a young man with with great enthusiasm,” said Callahan. “He’s been here his whole life and he’s ready for this challenge. Both he and Mike are great resources and I think these changes are best for our school.”
Naunton is proud to see Brylske follow in his footsteps.
“I can’t think of a better way to transition than to see a young man, who I have watched grow up from a 3-year old to the young man he is today, get this opportunity.
“Nobody loves Mount Carmel more than Alex. As much as he’s spent his time here, everything he has done is with a vision for the entire place. He backs it all up with his lacrosse program and he inspires people to try it in their programs, and me to do it in the athletic department, and now I’m excited to work for him (as baseball coach).”
Nauton compared the changes similar to the adjustments any successful coach might make.
“Coaches always have to put their players where they best help their team and that is what Mr. Callahan’s doing now,” added Naunton. “So, I am excited to be a part of this team.”
Brylske offered similar sentiments.
“Mr. Callahan was looking at people’s roles within the building and saw that Mr. Naunton’s strengths were needed elsewhere and he looked internally to see if anyone could fill his shoes, and he thought I could do that,” said Brylske. “I want to help enhance the school. We have a lot going on, revitalizing and energizing the place. We have an unbelievable coaching staff that Mr. Naunton has assembled. It’s an opportunity to build on what we have established. There is a strong tradition of sports here at Mount Carmel and it is an important part of the program we offer as a whole to our children.”