The Nantucket Swim & Dive program has been one of Nantucket’s most consistent and successful sports teams for years. Jim Pignato was preparing to begin his 20th season as the boys and girls head coach this winter, but on September 27 he told Athletic Director Travis Lombardi and Schools Superintendent Beth Hallett he would not be returning to the program. Pignato declined to continue coaching under a new structure the school administration was attempting to implement, which would have removed him as the girls varsity swim coach.
It wasn’t just Pignato either. Assistant coaches Natalie Thompson and Olivia Gallugi also resigned from coaching after 14 years and four years respectively with the program upon hearing of the proposed coaching changes the school was seeking.
Their departures leaves the program with no swim coaches six weeks before the season is scheduled to begin, and the job posting for a new swim coach has yet to be posted. Diving coach Drew Arent told the Current he has not decided whether he will coach this season or not.
Pignato, Thompson, and Gallugi declined to comment on the specific details of their resignations, but several players and individuals familiar with the situation told the Current that the resignations came after Pignato was told he would no longer be coaching the girls swim team and that the duty would be handed over to Thompson. These sources said both coaches disagreed with the decision and felt dividing the teams wasn’t in the best interest of the program. After being told this was the direction the school was headed, each coach made their own decision to resign.
Lombardi and Hallett released the following statement to the Current:
"Jim Pignato will not be returning as the Boys & Girls Swimming and Diving Coach for the upcoming season. The Athletic Department and School Administration felt that there was a need for a change in the coaching structure of the program. We presented this new structure to Coach Pignato and sadly Coach Pignato declined the proposed structure. The Nantucket High School Swim program has been extremely lucky to have had Coach Pignato at the helm for the last 19 years. He has positively impacted hundreds of swimmers not only in the pool, but as individuals outside the pool. We will be forever grateful for what he has given back to the Nantucket High Swimming & Diving Team. We wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors."
Multiple sources told the Current that the school’s decision to strip Pignato of his role coaching the girl's team came after multiple parents complained about Pignato’s coaching style and his decision to put one female swimmer over another in a relay race. We asked Lombardi and Hallett if they could confirm these allegations but did not immediately receive a response.
Pignato, who has received numerous awards and accolades for his coaching over the years such as MIAA Girls Swim Coach of The Year in 2018 as the state's top girls swim coach, released the following statement to the Current upon request:
“Due to personal reasons, I have decided not to coach this season. I did not envision my 20th season with the program playing out in this fashion,” he said.
Natalie Thompson gave the following statement to the Current on Tuesday:
"I have made the tough decision to not return to coaching the high school swim team after 14 seasons. Both personal reasons and proposed changes to the team lead me to this decision. I wish the program well."
Olivia Gallugi shared the following statement to the Current on Tuesday:
"After hearing of a sudden change to the swim program I have decided personally to resign from coaching. This decision fully breaks my heart, but I wish all the best to the future of Nantucket Swimming."
There are currently five active Div. 1 swimmers who are products of Nantucket’s swim program. Three of the five swimmers are female. There have been seven total Div. 1 swimmers and when you include Div. II and Div. III swimmers, between 40 and 50 Nantucket swimmers who have gone onto the next level during Pignato's tenure as head coach.
Current members of the high school swim team have expressed their disappointment and frustration with the news and said they are still trying to process it. Senior captain Lana Bresette told the Current these three coaches "mean a lot to me" and that when she and the rest of the swim team found out they would not be returning, the whole team was "crushed."
"All I’ve ever known since I began to swim at six years old were Natalie and Jim," Bresette said. "Natalie taught me how to swim and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these coaches. My sophomore year I was on the verge of quitting swim and the only reason I stayed on the team was because of Olivia, Natalie, and Jim. They made me feel valued and I am so appreciative of the relationships I have with all three of them. These three coaches have a passion for coaching I have never really witnessed in any other sport and it is going to be a very hard season without them."
"Jim Pignato is the swim program and whoever is going to end up replacing him is going to have some really big shoes to fill. These coaches mean so much to me and I feel like I can speak for the team when I say we are really going to miss them."
Senior captain Justin Roethke said the news is very unfortunate and said these three coaches not returning is a "huge loss" for the program.
"Jim, Natalie, and Olivia have created one of the most successful teams at our high school," Roethke said. "We are a close-knit team with many unique traditions. At this point, all we can do is to try to rebuild our team despite these difficult circumstances. This will be very hard to do without these coaches."
The news has also begun to trickle out off-island to former Whaler swimmers.
Sam Wisentaner, a member of the NHS Class of 2022, is currently swimming for Monmouth University’s Div. 1 Swim Team. She said having Pignato as her head coach is the “main reason” why she is where she is today with her swimming career.
“Jim, Natalie and Olivia showed me how much potential I really had when I didn't even know it,” Wisentaner said. “My freshman year I was brought to sectionals and states. Being brought the those meets meant that even though I made no qualifying times I could still compete in the relays. After learning that I would be included in those meets I questioned why. I knew I wasn't the fastest athlete on the team who could have been brought. The coaches told me they wanted me to compete in the meet because they had noticed how hard I had been working that season, and how much I was involved with the team. They showed me that I didn't need to be the fastest person in the pool to get somewhere with my swimming career.”
“Jim's coaching showed me that I didn't need to be the person always getting first place or the person getting all the medals. He showed me that it was ok to get discouraged when I didn't win a race or get the time that I was hoping for. He showed me to use those emotions towards my next race. Jim being my coach I think was the best thing that happened to me during high school, and I still use the lessons that he showed me over the years in my practices now and in everyday life.”
Tyler Roethke, a member of the NHS Class of 2020, is currently a Div. 1 swimmer in UMass Amherst's program. He said he was disappointed to hear the news.
"Having been my coach from swim lessons all the way through the end of high school, I wouldn’t be where I am as a swimmer today without Jim Pignato," Roethke. "Especially in high school, he pushed me to new heights and was constantly looking for new ideas and ways to make myself and our team better. After States every season, he was already talking about next season and what we could accomplish going forward. The energy and competitiveness he brought to the pool deck no matter who we were swimming against was unmatched. He taught me that every time I got on the blocks it mattered and that there was an opportunity. No one is or will ever be more committed to Whalers swimming than Coach Pignato was.”
The Current will continue to monitor and update this story.