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St. Joseph's Olayos hired to rebuild Notre Dame-Fairfield athletics

Updated 2:34 pm, Friday, August 16, 2013
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When Notre Dame-Fairfield asked Jim Olayos to help rebuild its athletics program, the St. Joseph athletics director practically leaped at the chance.

Though he had spent 11 years at his alma mater elevating the athletics programs to among the best among Catholic schools in the state, this was an offer he wouldn't refuse.

Olayos, 55, officially and enthusiastically became Notre Dame's director of athletics development on Tuesday. It's a new position at Notre Dame, intended to help the school rejuvenate itself as it attempts to rebound from years of declining enrollment.

Olayos is being asked to help build a replica of the athletics powerhouse he created just a few miles away in Trumbull.

"I am thrilled," Olayos said. "I feel like I'm rejuvenated. We are going to make great things happen over there."

Notre Dame, in turn, is hoping the hire and its continuing partnership with next-door Sacred Heart University will rejuvenate its profile among high schools in Fairfield County and continue to boost enrollment.

"It's obvious how successful Jim was in building St. Joseph into one of the region's strongest programs," Notre Dame Principal Chris Cipriano said. "What he'll bring to us is the skill, the background and the contacts to propel Notre Dame forward."

St. Joseph principal Ken Mayo said the search for Olayos' replacement will begin immediately.

"We're sorry to see him leave and I wish him the best," Mayo said. "I never stand in the way of anybody trying to better his situation."

Olayos said his eagerness to leave St. Joseph was tempered only by the students and the coaches under his guidance.

"I'll miss the kids and the coaches. That's it," he said. "Beyond that, there's no sense of loss. I love the kids and coaches."

Asked if he might have had problems with St. Joseph's administration, Olayos had no comment.

Mayo, one of Olayos' former teachers, said he had "no idea" what Olayos meant. "You'll have to ask him," Mayo said.

Olayos, however, did elaborate on the reasons why Notre Dame was so attractive.

"I felt that I wanted to find a greater compatibility with a group of people like Sacred Heart and Notre Dame, who are trying to bring athletics to a high level and create that student-athlete synergy," he said. "I really relish that objective. It's attractive to me. I want to work with people who believe (athletics) are a big part of the high school experience."

Olayos certainly has the credentials to make it work. All you have to do, Mayo said, is walk around behind the school.

"He did great work here," Mayo said. "The facilities are the most physical (evidence). But he was a great advocate for the kids and he did great work for us."

Olayos retired from a 20-year career as a lawyer to become athletic director when Christy Hayes left to take the athletics director job at Wilton. Hayes had briefly replaced basketball coach Vito Montelli who was forced to resign in 2001.

Over the next decade, St. Joseph saw rapid expansion of its athletic facilities. Olayos oversaw the construction and fundraising for the Dalling Sports Complex, a modern athletics facility that included new turf fields for football and softball and a reconstruction of the baseball field.

St. Joseph won 13 state championships in a variety of sports, including football, boys basketball, boys lacrosse, softball, baseball and hockey.

"He developed an atmosphere where coaches wanted to coach, where elementary students came to excel, and developed facilities that compared with any other high school in the state," said Montelli, who has known and has mentored Olayos all his life. "He knew what he wanted to do and got it done."

All of this, Olayos says, helped St. Joseph grow both athletically and academically.

"You'd go to the mall and see all of this St. Joseph gear on sale. It's great exposure," he said. "And that's what I want to do at Notre Dame.

"Some people might disagree with me, but I believe -- 100 percent -- that (a strong athletics program) gets kids that want to come and be a part of your school. And when you're successful and you build great facilities, you attract more students and athletes and create more spirit. That's the kind of thing that makes a school grow and kids want to go there."

Cipriano said Olayos will work on the broader picture while current athletic director Rob Bleggi remains responsible for the day-to-day operations of the department. Olayos will move his Future Stars Sports Academy camp, which he cofounded and runs with former ND basketball star Frank Oleynick, to the Notre Dame campus.

"Here's a man that needs challenges," Montelli said. "He's got a heck of a challenge ahead of him. St. Joseph will miss him."

Some of St. Joseph's coaches were saddened to hear of the move.

Boys basketball coach Chris Watts gave credit to Olayos for easing him through his college recruitment in the 1980s.

"It's sad that he's going," Watts said. "He's been a great mentor and friend to my family. He's a big brother to me and I'll always be grateful."

Football coach Joe Della Vecchia said he could always count on Olayos to take care of issues and work for the benefit of his athletes.

"I'm very disappointed," he said. "He worked his butt off for you and was great with all the kids, not just the athletes. We're losing a friend. We'll miss him, but we'll move on."

sbowley@ctpost.com

Correction: An original version of this story incorrectly stated Jim Olayos replaced Vito Montelli in 2002. Olayos replaced Christy Hayes, who served as AD from 2001-02. The article has been corrected to reflect this change.