JAN.6,2022— Picture this: You are at a game at Pal-Mac. You are watching two teams battling it out on the diamond, the pool, the hardwood, wherever.
You’re probably cheering on a Red Raider athlete or two, or watching the scoreboard in the hopes of a big win.
Whatever you’re doing while at the game, just about everything you see around you was made possible due in part to Athletics Secretary Pat Bliss.
For the last 23 years, you could not say “Pal-Mac Athletics” without mentioning her or her efforts to carefully coordinate gameday plans. But now, she’s chosen to work on a different plan: Retirement.
Friday marked Bliss’s last day at Pal-Mac as she takes on a new chapter of her life.
“I’m ready to go,” Bliss said. “Not that I don’t like working here, I definitely do, I just feel like it’s time.”
It’s a well-earned end to more than two decades of passion and commitment to the District and its student-athletes.
WORKING BEHIND THE SCENES
Since taking on the role in 2000, Bliss worked countless hours with athletic directors and coaches to set up everything from game schedules to busing to payroll and everything in between.
She also took charge during the athletic award ceremonies, as she would hand out awards to the student-athletes.
“It’s the games, keeping track of officials, the timers, the chaperones, kind of keeping it all together,” Bliss said. “It’s knowing what really happens behind the scenes that people really don’t know.”
And there were plenty of responsibilities that Bliss herself didn’t know about when she first took on the role. She was originally hired by long-time athletic director Fred Ciaburri.
Before she came to Pal-Mac, she’d worked 17 years as an office manager at a doctor's office. She decided to change jobs after working long hours, all while having her young daughter at home.
She said the secretary position offered a much better work/life balance and gave her a chance to do something new.
Like, completely new.
Bliss said the office job was all billing and typing, and she did not have extensive computer experience when she came to Pal-Mac. Over the course of time, she had to learn how to work with different scheduling software as well as new TV equipment, among other things.
In 2005, the New York State Athletic Administrators Association awarded her the Judith A. Martens Secretarial Award of Excellence for her efforts. Bliss said the honor was among her proudest moments.
Bliss holding her 2005 award
“You’re out there and you’re doing your job, but you also have fun,” Bliss said. “I enjoyed what I was doing, but it took a lot to learn at first.”
And she says the learning never stopped, even when Ciaburri retired in 2009, and current athletic director Tom Schmandt took over.
When we spoke to Schmandt about Bliss, he said like with any team, there were struggles and frustration as the two worked through those technological and logistical challenges. But he said their communication always stayed solid, as it was something he says Bliss prided herself on.
Schmandt credited her with expanding the secretary role from a simple desk job to basically being the assistant AD.
“She’s 10 steps ahead of everybody else in terms of preparedness organization,” Schmandt said. “Just knowing processes in place and carrying them through.”
When asked what Bliss has meant to the District over the last 23 years, he stopped and simply said “she’s our rock.” He said her experience and knowledge will be tough to replace.
Job experience aside, Schmandt said Bliss helped to create a true team atmosphere in the department.
He noted Bliss’s infectious passion and energy, which you might not notice in her at first glance.
“IT IS WHAT IT IS”
Bliss agreed she can be quiet and shy at first, but there’s a whole lot of comedy and energy beneath the surface.
Through our talk, Bliss looked back on a funny moment that followed her during her time at Pal-Mac.
She was working one day when then-head football coach Steve Sanzo came in and mentioned how “down” the team was at the time. The two talked about ways to fire the players up. Then she says Sanzo got an idea, maybe Bliss could say a few words.
The rest was history.
In a demonstration, Bliss warmed up her arms and clapped her hands together,
“I told them they needed to get excited,” Bliss said. ““Hey! What are your pads for!? They’re for hitting! Ya gotta get out there and give it your all.”
It’s a moment Bliss says was well out of her comfort zone, but one she looks back on fondly. She says colleagues like Schmandt and High School Principal Andy Wahl occasionally bring it up.
"When you step out of your comfort zone, and you do have that passion, and all of the sudden, you see it in an external way, you’re fired up, I love it,” Schmandt said.
Bliss recently recreated the moment when she went over the public address system at the school. She hyped up the students during a special hallway parade for the girls' varsity lacrosse team.
The willingness to come out of that comfort zone is part of Bliss’s everyday mantra. It's a five-word phrase “It is what it is.”
The phrase became a calling card of sorts for Bliss, who often says it after something goes wrong. In fact, she was even wearing a small green button with the phrase on it.
“I am not even sure where it started from, I just started saying it,” Bliss said. “And then it just kind of stuck with everybody.”
Even as she leaves, the message will still stick around, literally. She gifted Schmandt with a wooden plaque with the phrase on it. She also left similar pieces in the high school nurse's office.
“PART OF A FAMILY”
As we talked about everything from the fun stories to the difficult days, Bliss said the people she met along the way kept her coming back day after day.
She didn’t want to single out anyone specifically, mainly because she says she worked with too many great people to count.
Much like she did in reflecting on a funny story, she reflected on a darker story; The loss of her daughter.
Her daughter, Taylor, passed away in an ATV accident in 2013. She says going through that period was hard, but the people around her at Pal-Mac immediately stepped up to support her and her husband.
“I guess I’d have to say that, you feel like you’re part of the family,” Bliss said. “It seems if something is not right they are there to help you.”
THE NEXT STEPS
With peace of mind and years of memories, Bliss says she is looking forward to what is next.
Ever the travel fan, she and her husband booked two trips, with more vacations on the way.
While she says she will miss working with her Pal-Mac family, she won’t be too far away. Bliss, a Newark native, says she may stop by a game or two.
So the next time you're at a Pal-Mac game, and you’re cheering on an athlete or staring at the scoreboard. You could be standing next to the person who helped make it all possible for all those years.
Who knows, maybe you'll hear a pump-up speech.