It usually didn’t take long for sports to come up.
During open houses for First State Military Academy in the spring, Pat Gallucci took hundreds of questions from parents about the fledgling school.
“When a parent talked about the school, they talked a little bit about what we’re going to be doing,” said Gallucci, the school’s commandant. “Then, the second question is, ‘What athletic teams are you going to be offering?’”
For a new school like First State Military — which opens this fall outside Smyrna — questions like that are where the process starts. By the time the school reaches maturity in a few years, Gallucci expects First State Military will be offering a full array of athletic programs, including football.
The school will be just the latest addition to Delaware’s high school sports world — a world that seems to be evolving all the time.
In Kent County, First State Military is joined by Delaware State’s Early College High School, which opened in Dover last fall. The school has plans to offer athletics in the future.
To the south, Georgetown’s Sussex Academy will expand its high school to include students through 11th grade this fall. The school is joining the Henlopen Conference as its 15th member this school year.
In Kent and Sussex County, which has seen only four new high schools created since the consolidation of the late 1960s, it’s too soon to say how big an impact the three new schools will have on downstate athletics.
Certainly, though, new, non-traditional public schools have had an impact on high school sports in Delaware overall.
Consider that, in the 1970s, the Delaware Secondary School Athletic Association’s membership was made up of 76 percent traditional public school and 24 percent tuition-based schools.
But, this past school year, just 38 percent of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association’s membership was traditional public schools. The rest consisted of tuition-based schools (27 percent), charter/magnet schools (20 percent), comprehensive vo-tech schools (10 percent) and five percent ‘other’ schools.
First State Military has ties to Delaware Military Academy, a school that opened in Newport in 2003.
Gallucci said First State Military would love to duplicate DMA’s athletic success. This past school year, the Seahawks made DIAA state tournaments in eight different sports.
“We look at DMA and that’s somewhere we want to be,” said Gallucci, who was the athletic director at Polytech High when First State Military hired him last fall. “You look at them now from where they were 10 years ago, they’re a solid school and athletic program within the state.”
Starting out with a limited number of sophomores to go with its first freshman class, First State Academy plans to offer junior varsity programs in boys’ soccer, volleyball, cross country. boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, wrestling, baseball, boys’ lacrosse and girls’ soccer in its
innaugural school year. The school is roughly 65-70 percent male.
Football will be added in the school’s second year with the expectation that First State Military will be competing at the varsity level in all sports within a year or two.
“We’re trying to build good citizens here when these kids graduate,” said Gallucci. “And there’s no better place than the athletic fields to help develop some of those leadership skills. Sportsmanship goes hand-in-hand with military athletics.”
Even when it’s at full capacity, Gallucci doesn’t expect First State Military to be a big school. The plan now is for it to grow to an enrollment of 500-600 students.
Still, any time a new school opens, there is a fear of it “taking” students from existing schools — especially in regards to athletics. First State Military expects to draw mostly from Kent and New Castle counties with a few from Sussex.
But Gallucci points out that, with all the expectations placed on a student in a military school, athletics probably aren’t going to be the biggest reason someone chooses First State Military.
“Our kids are going to come to school and they’re going to have to agree to wear a uniform every day,” he said. “They’re going to have to have Marines Corp Junior ROTC.”
First State Military student-athletes are also going to have to be prepared to play most of their games on the road for at least a little while. The school will have practice facilities but other facilities will be built as the school grows.
The school has chosen its official colors — navy, red with some gold — but doesn’t have a mascot yet. Students will choose one in the first week of school.
Gallucci also said no decision has been made on which athletic conference First State Military will try to join. The Diamond State Conference would probably be the first choice with the Henlopen Conference also a possibility.
Of course, only time will tell how this all turns out.
“We need to establish ourself,” said Gallucci. “Everything we do from this point we’ll be building on it. This year is essential. Our freshmen and sophomores, we call them our plank owners. They’re our classes that are going to be starting the school. Everything we build is off of them.”