Retiring East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School Athletic Director Dom Vulpis’s positive influence on students will stay with many of them long after they graduate. Alumnus Dominic Carre credits Vulpis — his junior varsity baseball coach — for the career path he chose and job he loves.
Carre recalled that as a junior in 1998, he was torn between accounting and physical education as a college major. A gym teacher in West Hempstead for the past 11 years, Carre said he owes his happiness to the advice he received from Vulpis nearly two decades ago.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” said Carre, who said he stuck with phys-ed after many conversations with Vulpis. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else , and my teaching style, coaching style and leadership style I kind of get from him.”
Vulpis will retire June 23, but he will leave a legacy full of innovation. Carre said Vulpis instilled in him the morals and values he needed to succeed, and still offers him advice when he needs it.
“He’s always building the [sports] programs for the better, and that has nothing to do with wins and losses and championships,” Carre said. “He is an icon in the East Rockaway community and in life that is irreplaceable. He’s a fixture that can’t be replaced.”
Vulpis will start working as the assistant to the executive director of Section VIII athletics in Garden City on July 1. He did not know what to anticipate in the days leading up to his departure from East Rockaway schools. “I will be flooded with emotions,” he said, adding a slight laugh. “I don’t think I’ll be able to keep a dry eye.” His replacement had not been named as of press time.
Vulpis’s journey to East Rockaway began when he graduated from St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, a master’s from Queens College and an administrative degree from the College of Staten Island.
In 1979 he was hired as a phys-ed teacher at St. Francis Prep. After working at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn and Curtis High School in Staten Island, Vulpis saw an ad for a job opening in East Rockaway and interviewed there in 1995.
“What drew me to relocate my family here was that after my interview, I walked down the hallway and I looked at all of the memorabilia that’s up on the wall here,” he said. “Every bit of it reflected community and family, and that’s where I knew I would be most effective.”
Vulpis originally applied for the position of assistant principal and dean of discipline at the high school, but then-athletic director Harry Friesleben had just retired. Knowing Vulpis’s background, school administrators offered him a choice of jobs. He said he has no regrets about choosing athletic director.
For six years he made a daily commute from his home in Brooklyn to East Rockaway, but he was eventually drawn to the village. In 2001 he moved into a house on Wilson Street with his wife, Kathleen, his son, Dominic Jr., and his twin daughters, Mary Kate and Kerrianne.
Vulpis said he credits Kathleen, whom he married in 1982, for persuading him to continue pursuing a career in physical education. “When we met in college, I was working for the IRS and going to college at night,” he recounted. “It was my wife who talked me back into pursuing my dream.” Kathleen is also a phys-ed teacher, at St. Edmund Preparatory High School in Brooklyn.
When he came to East Rockaway, it didn’t take long for Vulpis to make an impression. Joe Lores, who teaches business and coaches girls’ soccer and softball, and served as the boys’ basketball coach for 35 years before recently stepping down, said the transition from Friesleben to Vulpis, was initially tough, but he was quickly won over.
“Dom came here 22 years ago, and I’d say we pretty much hit it off right from the start,” Lores said. He noted that Vulpis did not make changes immediately, and just observed the situation for a year. “It’s one thing I always admired about Dom,” he said.
One thing that Vulpis is remembered for is his creative problem-solving. He said that when he arrived at East Rockaway, he noticed that the district did not have many sports teams. He added that Malverne High School was in a similar situation, and would forfeit games because it did not have enough players. To solve the problem, Vulpis met with then-Malverne Athletic Director Hank Williams, and they discussed the possibility of combining teams.
In 1997, East Rockaway joined forces with Malverne to form boys’ and girls’ soccer teams. In 2000, East Rockaway added boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and, in 2002, a tennis team was created. East Rockaway also had a golf team for a brief period, and recently partnered with Southside High School in Rockville Centre to make a wrestling team.
“He certainly has made his imprint here,” Lores said of Vulpis. “Since he’s been the athletic director, they’ve added all these sports. These were all things that at the time were considered thinking outside the box.” Lores said that other schools soon began following the model of combining teams.
Vulpis has received many accolades, including the New York State Athletic Administrators Association Apple Appreciation Award, for which winners are selected based on their service to the schools and community in phys-ed and athletics, as well as their contributions to the success of the association. During his time as athletic director, East Rockaway teams have won 50 championships. "Mr. Vulpis is a highly-skilled and passionate administrator who has shaped the physical education and athletics of our district over the past 22 years,” said East Rockaway Superintendent Lisa Ruiz. “He is a tireless advocate for his departments and provides strong leadership for the development of the many programs he oversees.”
Vulpis said that he hired all of the teachers in his department, and is confident that the district will be in good shape for years to come. He added that he would miss his colleagues and the students the most, but he would remain tied to the community and the school. “This will be my home away from home, as they say,” he said of the high school. “It always will be.”