Football has been a life passion for Art Bonomie, and nobody was more excited when Madison West Athletic Director Alicia Pelton recently announced that the interim Madison West football coach was now the permanent one.
“This is, in my opinion, the dream job for me because I’m not only a member of the community, I consider myself a dad in the District and a taxpayer of the City of Madison. West has been home for me for a very long time. I love the spirit and the high ceiling that we have,” Bonomie tells Madison365. “This is a dream job for me and an amazing opportunity. I’m very happy.”
Bonomie replaces Brad Murphy as head coach, who led the Regents to a 21-20 record in four seasons. With the season being canceled by MMSD last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bonomie has been eager to jump in with his players and get to work.
“Because we didn’t have a full season, we had what we called a spring alternative season and it was all virtual, the WIAA gave us 15 days of contact. Not physical contact; it’s communication contact with the players. We are in week two of that contact,” Bonomie says. “We move practices to Midvale Elementary [on Madison’s west side]. We are trying to take our show on the road. I want to see Madison West football in our middle schools and our elementary schools throughout the summer. I want the kids at those schools to know that we appreciate them and love them and that anyone can get to that level.”
Contact days will wrap up at the end of this week and the team will focus on a lot of strength and conditioning.
“By July, we will be seeing a lot of two-a-day camps and then our season starts in August. It’s going to get here really fast. And we are going to be ready,” Bonomie says.
“I always advocate that when you to become a coach – especially a head coach – you have to acclimate yourself to the fact that you want to be in a position where you want the pressures, the concerns, the issues, the questions … it’s all on you,” he adds. “You lead the program. You represent it. From that perspective, you really need to have high organizational skills and great communication with your staff, players and parents.”
Bonomie makes it clear that his style of coaching goes beyond the X’s and O’s and straight to the health and wellness of his players both on and off the field — especially after the long pandemic.
“We are coming out of a very long year. I do believe that COVID has had a significant effect on the kids in our community in terms of mental health, academics, and how it has changed almost every aspect in our lives,” he says. “Regaining a new normal and being in a position where you can lead kids into that change, I think is exciting for me. I always tell my staff that the very definition of being optimistic is an understanding that everything that happened to us is something that gives us the opportunity to grow.”
Bonomie has six years of high school coaching experience, including five years at Madison West and one year with Edgewood. He has also been involved with West’s youth program and is a board member for the Southside Raiders. This past spring, he helped start a new spring “All-City” football league that provides youths an opportunity for physical activity and a return to a sense of normalcy.
“I have experience coaching youth football and being around kids for almost 10 years. I have a unique vantage point of being able to build great relationships with families and kids over the years but also the opportunity to realize that some of the issues I’m facing now as a head coach are not issues that I can address or solve at the high school level because we are putting on band-aids at that level,” Bonomie says. “And that is necessary — we do whatever we can to help students graduate — but their reality is that when we look at academic excellence or mental health balance, that those are things we should be tackling and facing at the younger levels – elementary and middle school levels.
“I’m a firm believer in vertical alignment. One of the visions that I presented to MMSD, Madison West High School and our AD Alicia Pelton was that I am running the K-12 football program. I want to be very clear about it. I’m not running 9-12 grades,” he continues. “Any of the kids who are wearing flags; any of the kids who are playing tackle football in our elementary schools and middle schools and high schools should all have the same type of alignment in our principals around the foundation of the program.”
For Bonomie’s players, he says that will include academic excellence.
“My number one success will be how many kids I’m graduating and getting into college,” he says. “It’s not football games, it’s not yardage, it’s not how far we can throw passes. The ultimate level of success for us as coaches is graduating kids and helping them be successful in life … whatever that might be.”
Football can be an expensive sport to play, so Bonomie says that it is also important to have no barriers.
“We have to make things easier for our kids — Registration, fees, etc. …. we need to build empathy in that process. I’m a firm believer that kids will come out for football – I’ve seen it time and time again at every single level. Make it fun. Make it easy to join and participate,” he says.
Mental health balance and leadership development will be the other two foundations of his football program.
“I’m not here to change the tradition of Madison West football. I respect and admire those who have come before me and the traditions we have … but I am here to change the culture,” Bonomie says. “That’s not to say that what was here before me was bad; I just have a unique way of building that and for me, culture is connecting people. You have to have your own language, your own terminology, it has to represent something for you. You have to start with your own staff, teachers, administration …
“I want people who do not like football at our games on Friday nights wearing our gear and feeling connected to the kids and feeling connected to us,” he adds. “That’s success. That’s culture … keeping everybody accountable.”