Credit: Roy Chambers, Milton photographer.

Taking over one of the largest athletic programs in the state could be daunting, but Ryan Madden is excited for the challenge. 

This winter when Dan Lee, six-year athletic director of the Needham Public Schools, announced he was leaving to take a job at his alma mater in the Lincoln-Sudbury school district, Madden knew he had to apply for the position. 

Needham is perennially one of the two largest high school athletic programs in Massachusetts in terms of total student participation. This is a considerable undertaking even for a seasoned athletic director. But Madden, who assumed the AD role in his hometown of Milton at just age 22, is unfazed. 

“I wouldn’t have applied anywhere else,” said Madden, who has served as the athletic director in Milton for the past six years. “I’ve admired [the program] from the outside since I began working at Milton. The support Needham gives their athletic department and the support from parents at all levels, from the outside, that looked awesome.” 

Madden was a high school and college athlete himself, soccer being his primary sport. He knew early on that he wanted to be involved in the athletic world long term and began interning at area high schools while at Curry College. 

After graduating, Madden volunteered extensively with the athletics program at Milton High School while working in the special education department. The program was going through a significant transition period, with three athletic directors in four years. It was not long after he started working that the director’s position opened up again, and Madden stepped into the role. 

“We’re definitely excited to have Ryan Madden join us starting this summer,” said Needham High School Principal Aaron Sicotte. “We’re thrilled to have Ryan’s experience and passion and his values that really align with ours.” 

The idea of students as drivers of their own learning, a key tenet of the Portrait of a Needham Graduate, is the foundation of Madden’s vision for the department. 

“I want students to get out what they put in,” said Madden. “This isn’t my athletic department, it’s not even the coaches’ program. This is the students’ program, and I feel strongly about that.” One of his goals is to create a student-athlete leadership team with representatives from each grade and every sport to ensure all voices are heard and represented. 

Out of nearly two dozen applicants, Madden quickly rose to the top. His focus on student engagement was one of many attributes that stood out to Dan Gutekanst, superintendent of Needham Public Schools. 

“He had a level of emotional intelligence that not everyone coming into an interview demonstrates so quickly,” said Gutekanst. “He showcased that inclusion and equity are a priority for him, and he is looking forward to expanding the program to ensure as many students as possible are included and feel welcome.” 

As a longtime admirer of Needham’s athletic program, Madden hopes to build on the strong foundation that already exists and continue the focus on the student part of student-athlete.

“Winning is fun,” he said, noting the number of championships Needham boasts. “But we need to teach our student-athletes how to be better students, citizens, and the rest.”

Gutekanst said he was impressed by how attuned Madden was to the history and tradition that exist in Needham as well as his sensitivity to developing a program with an eye to the particular needs of individuals. “He has the energy and the leadership traits to take our students and coaches to the next level,” he said.

During Madden’s tenure in Milton, the athletic department added three new programs focused on inclusivity as well as a number of sub varsity and middle school programs to increase participation. Over the six years, coach retention rates improved and the student-athlete body and coaching staff diversified to better represent the community. 

Madden is excited to bring his experience to Needham and learn a lot from Needham as well. He officially joins the team July 1.

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