2020 Spirit Award Presented to Alumnus and Teacher Matt Durando ’96, P’30

“From your days as a Poly student, loved LS teacher, and respected baseball coach you have modeled all that is good at Poly,” said former Director of Athletics Mildred Piscopo in a tribute to Matt Durando ’96, P’30. “I am a better person for knowing you as a student, teacher, and coach. Congratulations!”

Poly was proud to honor Durando with the 2020 Alumni Association Spirit Award during a virtual celebration on Saturday, October 24 via Zoom.

Matt Durando '96, P'30 Spirit Award winner

Alumni Relations Director Donna Muoio P’13, ’17 welcomed everyone to what became a lovefest for Durando with memories shared by fellow alumni and colleagues. She pointed out the virtual tribute message board as evidence of the widespread affection for Matt.

Middle School dean Peter Soto ’01, P’31, ’35, representing the Alumni Association Board of Governors, said that he and Durando began their Poly teaching careers together 14 years ago as PE teachers at the Lower School. At that time, the building was undergoing renovation and Lower School PE classes were held outside in Prospect Park much as Lower School is doing this year. Despite the challenges of cold wet days in the park, “Matt pointed out the beauty around us and was always positive,” Soto said. It was Durando who would buy bagels and coffee for colleagues and patiently answer the “whys” of a three-year-old.

Durando is “our Poly guy” and makes everyone else around him better.

Matt Durando '96, P'30 yearbook photo

Durando’s “best friend since second grade,” Austin Perilli ’96 recalled how Durando posted inspirational quotes for his Poly baseball teammates and how together they served as “beverage engineers” pulling a wagon of Gatorade around Summer Experience. Perilli said Durando is “our Poly guy” and makes everyone else around him better.

Durando played Varsity Baseball at Poly and went on to earn an MBA from Long Island University. After 9/11, he decided to make a career change and has been a Lower School PE teacher since fall 2006. He coached Varsity Baseball with Matt Roventini ’92, P’20, ’25 in the two previous seasons and still serves as assistant coach.

“He’s the nicest guy I know. It’s the truth.”

Matt Durando '96, P'30 with kids

Coach Roventini was next up to pay tribute to Durando. “He makes me look good,” Roventini said, “Matt is Poly Prep. There is nobody I wanted more by my side. He makes us all better.” Not only is Durano a friend, he said, but family. “He’s the nicest guy I know. It’s the truth.”

Coach Roventini, who knows him well, posted this tribute, “Matt not only brings a wealth of knowledge about baseball but he is always the first coach to support a player or fellow coach when they need it. Whenever I am having ‘one of those days’ as a coach Matt is always there to remind me that it’s going to be OK.  Not a moment goes by without Matt standing by my side encouraging his players to be the best they can be.  His wealth of knowledge and kind heart make him the perfect Assistant Coach.  Not to mention he can also talk fishing, food, movies, and music when an escape from baseball is needed.” 

When it was time for Durando to speak, he shared a glimpse of the actual Spirit Award as his son, Jonathan, looked on proudly. Durando went on to thank family and friends starting with his grandparents, parents, wife, Tina, and sons, Jonathan and Christian. “I am truly blessed to spend every day at a place I adore,” he said of Poly. Durando recounted how a call from Coach Billy McNally brought him back to Poly to work at baseball camp. “I felt like a kid again.” But added, “Saying ‘yes’ to Matt when he asked me to be assistant coach changed the future of my life.” And then becoming a PE teacher at Lower School in 2006 was “the chance of a lifetime.” In his generous, humble way, Durando went on to thank just about every colleague he had the pleasure of working beside or coaching with at Poly.

A parent [Kippy Joseph P’24, ‘26] shared this tribute to Durando on the message board, “When I visited Lower Poly for the first time, it was Mr. Durando who sold me on the school in a chance encounter in the hallway when I got separated from the tour. We chatted for several minutes and I said to myself, ‘If all the faculty and staff at Poly are as great as this guy, I know my kids will be in good hands.’ And they have been since then!”

When asked earlier to name those at Poly who had inspired him, Durando said, “The list is incredibly long and I can speak for days about the wonderful people associated with this place. Among my favorite coaches when I was a student were Ed Ruck, Michael Junsch, William McNally, Gerald Stone, true gentlemen. Teachers who greatly impacted my growth as a learner were Marie Corkhill, Bart Moroney, Harold Bernieri, Sabina Laricchia, Khari Freeman (husband of Erica), and Guy Devyatkin, among many others who taught me to be persistent and.committed to learning. As a teacher, I am inspired by colleagues Alison Flannery, Rachel Olinyk, Peter Soto, and my specialist team at Lower Poly. All care for each individual in the class and seek to reach them where they are as learners. I have learned and will continue to learn from each one of them.” 

Matt Durando '96, P'30 with son

“I hope that as a teacher, each student will learn the fundamentals of sports, the importance of showing good sportsmanship, and the joy found in friendly competition,” Durando said in advance of the ceremony. “I believe the acquisition of a skill is useless unless a student applies it within a game setting. As a coach, I hope my players will better understand that mechanics of hitting a baseball is a career-long learning process and there is no exact science that works for all. I believe that to be a complete baseball player, the mental side of the game is equally as important as the skill side.” 

In concluding his Spirit Award acceptance speech, Durando recalled the words of a 1973 Billy Joel song, “You Are My Home” that expressed his feelings about Poly. “Thank you, Poly,” Durando said, “for being my home.”

Another Poly alumna and Poly parent Alex Maresca Azara ’00, P’33 said it well in her message board tribute, “Matt, it is clear how much you love Poly.  I just hope you know how much Poly loves you.  You are responsible for so many smiles every day, not just from the kids, but also parents and colleagues.  You wear a lot of Poly hats but you wear them so well.  I am thrilled that you are getting the recognition you deserve.  Thank you for your incredible Poly Spirit and dedication to our school.” 

Head of School Audrius Barzdukas P’20 congratulated Durando and thanked him “for lifting our hearts.”