Polar Bears booster Jeremy Laird appointed as new Fairmont Senior athletic director

Apr. 20—FAIRMONT — A changing of the guard has taken place within Fairmont Senior High athletics that may have passed under the radar.

Former Athletic Director Joseph Naternicola retired in March, and the Marion County Board of Education approved hiring Jeremy Laird as his successor.

"It's an overwhelming responsibility at this point," Laird said on his second day on the job. "I'm following in the footsteps of some great predecessors... and those are some big shoes to fill."

Having graduated from Fairmont Senior in 1996, Laird stayed in the area to raise his family. His two oldest kids attended Fairmont Senior, and he said his youngest daughter enters her freshman year there in the fall.

Naternicola was Fairmont Senior's first athletic director after the Marion County Board of Education voted in 2016 to give all three high schools their own athletic director instead of having one who all three schools.

Naternicola, a member of the Fairmont Senior class of 1970, coached both football and wrestling at his alma mater through the 80s and 90s in tandem with teaching. He retired from those jobs before becoming athletic director, a position that, at the time, he felt more than ready for and proud to do.

"I've been (at FSHS) since 1966-67 when I went to high school there," Naternicola said in 2016. "I started coaching there 1976, so I've just been there all my life. I'm a Polar Bear from the very beginning. My grandmother graduated from there, my mother graduated from there and my wife and sons went there. I have a lot of loyalty to that school."

According to Fairmont Senior Principal Jim Green, Naternicola approached Green in 2023 about the 2023-24 school year being his last. Naternicola later told Green he'd be retiring at the end of the boys basketball tournament in March.

"That was the middle of the basketball season, maybe the beginning of the basketball season," Green said. "I said 'Just do me a favor, Joe, as soon as you can get your resignation in... and put the effective date on it so that once it's accepted we can start the search [for a replacement].'"

The board of education accepted Naternicola's resignation at its Feb. 19 meeting with an effective resignation date of March 16, according to the meeting agenda. Naternicola acted as interim athletic director a little after the effective date while the search continued.

Right after accepting Naternicola's resignation, the board of education posted the job on its website and gave a five-day window for interested parties to apply, according to Green. After the window closed, Green and his assistant principals looked over the applications.

"We did check references and call people that worked with everybody that was involved," Green said. "We were able to continue the process, and then we had the interviews. Went through everything with a fine tooth comb as best we could."

Green said that five people applied and three made it to the interview round. After the interviews, Green and his team picked Laird and presented him to the board of education who voted him in as the new athletic director at Fairmont Senior on April 8 with a start date of April 10.

"Mr. Laird's commitment to FSHS is well known and the recommendation from the FSHS administration shows their faith in his charisma, positive and creative energy, and capabilities to support the student-athletes and coaches of FSHS," School Superintendent Donna Heston said via text. "In addition, he was appointed by board of education members to a committee to make improvements at East-West Stadium over the last few years and has been an active member and tireless advocate for the students of FSHS and the community."

Laird acted as president of the Fairmont Senior football boosters club before he became athletic director for all Polar Bear sports. While Laird doesn't have any coaching experience, Green said it's not necessary for the job considering the duties and responsibilities.

"It doesn't require coaching," Green said. "It's organizational in its process of making sure all the T's are crossed and I's are dotted for the SSAC, for officials, for getting ticket takers and things like that. He doesn't do any coaching of any kind, and he doesn't do any evaluating of coaches."

According to Green, Laird earned his confidence by attending every Fairmont Senior sporting event, which demonstrates his passion for Polar Bear athletics.

Taking the position during the spring sports season and before the summer break, Laird has the challenge of preparing Fairmont Senior athletics for the new classification system coming in the 2024-25 season.

"The biggest challenge, of course, this year would be the implementation of the four class system," Laird said. "Most of our sports are moving up to the AAA level. So new class, new sections, new regions. That will be the vision at this point."

Fairmont Senior will face new, tougher opponents in AAA after recent success for multiple sports in AA. Laird assures the winning ways won't stop under his direction, however.

"The athletics at Fairmont Senior's simply the best at this point," Laird said. "Our motto here recently has been 'Business as usual.' That business is going to continue, whether it be football, basketball, tennis, cheerleading, the mission is still to continue on as it's normal business."

Reach Colin C. Rhodes at 304-367-2548