Anonymous Gift Honors the Legacy of “Coach P”

  • Ravens Rewind
Anonymous Gift Honors the Legacy of “Coach P”
Kevin Flinn

Michelle Piette, founder of the athletic training and sports medicine program, remains a treasured mentor to her students.

Picture this: a volleyball player finishes her game in the Finley Center’s Main Arena, changes quickly into a Ravenscroft Sports Medicine polo and, bag of athletic tape over her shoulder, hops on a Gator to cover a home football game as a student athletic trainer.

While it may be rare to see students in this role at other schools, at Ravenscroft it’s been standard practice for years. Since its humble beginnings as a Physical Education course, the athletic training and sports medicine program has become a significant part of Ravenscroft athletics and a major draw for many Upper School students, giving them hands-on experience in a growing field and influencing them in their choice of careers.

Now, as the Olander Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center prepares to open early next year, a grateful family has made an anonymous gift to endow a room in honor of the woman who built that program — Michelle Piette, affectionately known as “Coach P” — ensuring that her legacy will forever be celebrated on Ravenscroft’s campus.

Left, shown here in the 1991 Corvus yearbook, Coach P serves as the sideline athletic trainer as well as the sponsor of the Sports Medicine Club. Right, Piette tends to an injured football player in this photo from the 2008 Corvus.

“Like a Pied Piper”

Piette, who started her career as head of the sports medicine program at Arizona State University, served as Ravenscroft’s athletic trainer for 31 years. During that time, she developed a rigorous curriculum for students interested in sports medicine and supported the Athletic Department’s institution of injury prevention and treatment protocols

Coach P, who retired in 2017, ensured that student trainers were well-trained, disciplined and diligent. Before, during and after competitive events, they taped ankles, treated bloody noses and offered comfort and support — all things they learned from their mentor. Student-athletes serving “double duty” as trainers, Piette said, “look at things differently and understand the bigger picture. It’s such a unique setting, and the kids benefit in so many different ways.”

Piette demonstrates how to tape an ankle with Jess Perniciaro ’00, a student trainer who would go on to a career in emergency and transport medicine. “She could tape an ankle as well as I could!” Piette said.

“She watched over them, and they followed her around like a Pied Piper,” said Phil Higginson, Associate Head of School for Philanthropy. “She was tough, though. When you’re assessing such a range of injuries in student-athletes, you have to be.”

Piette cited numerous times when a Ravenscroft sports team showed up at another school with a cadre of student trainers in tow and the opposing teams stared, wide-eyed, at kids treating injuries. It was Ravenscroft’s proactive approach to athletics and programmatic growth, coupled with her expertise and willingness to lead, that made it possible.

“There are very few schools that have athletic trainers on their faculty,” she said. “I taught and I was an academic advisor — that’s really rare."

Coach P, at back, is joined in her Gator at the softball field by Erin Hughes ’17, Lynn Johnson ’17 and Weezie Gibbons ’30, daughter of Athletics colleague Jim Gibbons.

“We piqued their interest”

Those benefits have extended far beyond the Ravenscroft campus and its athletic programs, however: Coach P’s influence has also guided numerous former students into their chosen professions.

“I still hear from so many people,” Piette said, “and I marvel at the number of students who have entered the healthcare profession, even if it’s not directly related to sports med. They’re surgical scrub nurses, OB-GYN doctors or physical trainers.”

One of those students is Ravenscroft’s current head athletic trainer, Sofia Armstrong Cole ’11. When, during her senior year, she took Coach P’s sports medicine class, she knew she was interested in medicine but also wanted to work with kids. The class “really opened my eyes to what athletic training was and what that career looks like at the secondary-school level,” she said.

In addition, Coach P’s measured approach to handling student injuries helped shape her own.

Piette smiles with Will Farrow ’15, one of many student trainers who did “double duty” as an athlete, playing both soccer and lacrosse.

“As an athletic trainer, you’re seeing kids who are hurt for the first time and you’re seeing kids who are hurt for the 50th time. Coach P made sure you were safe, but she also let you know when it was OK to keep going, which I think is a really important thing to learn as an athlete,” she said.

It’s just one more way Coach P’s long career has enriched the Ravenscroft experience.

“She will never stop teaching you,” Higginson said. “She will be there for you forever, if you are so inclined.”

And she is: Coach P said that nearly every day a former student reaches out via phone, email or Instagram to let her know how she shaped the direction of their lives.

“I just smile,” Piette said. “I know that we piqued their interest in sports medicine and they followed through. I love seeing what students did with it and how they made it their own.”


Above, nearing retirement in 2017, Piette prepares to leave the athletic training program in the hands of Tim Savage and Sofia Armstrong Cole ’11, who was one of the many students whose career paths she helped shape.