As the second-youngest of 10 siblings to graduate from Franklin, Scott Santangelo was introduced to the southeast Portland high school at an early age.
“I was there as a tiny little boy watching everybody play and grow up,” Santangelo said.
Franklin turned into a second home for Santangelo, a 1979 graduate who became a fixture in the school community as a coach and athletic director. Now he is ready to take a step back, opting to retire one month before a milestone event in his life – the wedding of his daughter, Quinn.
“I didn't know if I was coming back after the wedding,” Santangelo said. “But I just decided that it would be easier to transition if I made the decision to go, so they could find someone to take over and not miss a beat for the coaches and the kids.”
Gina Aman, hired by Santangelo as the head softball coach in 2002, said Santangelo has been much more than an athletic director at Franklin.
“He's a community member, an alumnus, someone who just dedicated his whole entire life to that school, that athletic program,” Aman said. “They are big shoes to fill, no question about it.”
Santangelo – known by many in the community as “Tango” – has done a little bit of everything at Franklin since he returned to the school as a coach in the late 1980s.
He was attending Portland State when then-Franklin football coach Frank Geske hired him as an assistant, and he spent 17 seasons on the coaching staff, much of that time as the offensive coordinator. He was the head girls basketball coach for five seasons (1996-2001) and he assisted in the baseball program.
Santangelo said he was “lucky enough” to coach some great athletes at Franklin, including football players Mike Nguyen and Legedu Naanee, who went on to play at UCLA and Boise State, respectively. Naanee had a six-year NFL career as a receiver.
Santangelo also was an assistant baseball coach at Madison and Lakeridge under the legendary Dave Gasser, helping Lakeridge win a state championship in 1999.
Santangelo was officially hired by the school in 1991 and spent 31 years on the staff, the last 21 as athletic director.
“They came to me and asked me to be the athletic director,” he said. “I said, 'Sure, what do they do?'”
He not only filled the role, he mastered it, earning 6A athletic director of the year in 2018. Jeff Peeler, assistant athletic director for the Portland Interscholastic League, said that Santangelo “epitomizes the position of athletic director.”
“He's an advocate for the community, the kids,” Peeler said. “He's been a bedrock. He is Franklin athletics, and has been for so long.”
Peeler was a young athletic director at Lincoln when he became acquainted with Santangelo.
“He kind of drove me nuts because he is so by-the-book and did everything right,” Peeler said. “There's right and wrong, and there's not much gray area with him. It was eye-opening for me. He does the right thing all the time. He just hasn't wavered. I've grown to appreciate and look up to him. It's a major loss for Franklin, and a major loss for the PIL.
“We're not just losing Santangelo, the fear is I hope we're not losing all the great things he has built. He's an institution.”
Aman, a 1997 Franklin graduate, said she is happy for Santangelo in his retirement, but “bummed” that he won't be around in his usual role.
“He's taught me a lot about just coaching in general,” Aman said. “Being able to bounce ideas off him, and being able to talk through ideas that I'm having, just the relationship that we have grown to have over the years, I'm going to miss that. He's absolutely a mentor to coaches.”
Perhaps Santangelo's crowning achievement at Franklin was overseeing the construction of athletic facilities that are among the state's finest. The entire school was rebuilt in a two-year project (2015-17) that cost more than $100 million.
“Like everything else that happens in the Franklin community, it was a team effort,” Santangelo said. “We had a great plan. All the coaches and the people in the PE department got together and said what they wanted, and what they had to have, and it came to fruition.”
The setting at the remodeled football stadium is one of the most picturesque in the state, enticing the University of Oregon to host a football scrimmage there and the Les Schwab Bowl to consider it as a potential venue. The main gym has become the home of the prestigious POA Holiday Classic girls basketball tournament.
“It's like the movie, if you build it, they will come,” Santangelo said. “We can't keep people out of there. It's really spectacular. All the kids in the PIL deserve to really have that same advantage. When we would go places, our kids would go, 'We don't have that,' and now we do.
“I'm still giving people tours. When you first walk in the gym, you go, 'Wow, what happened?' It's pretty stunning.”
Santangelo's expertise and community connections have been integral in Franklin successfully staging big events at the new facilities, according to Peeler, the director of the POA Holiday Classic.
“When I say we're going to run a tournament over there, he pushes a button and I've got 15 clock-workers, announcers and ticket-takers,” Peeler said. “It's like, boom. … Tango just has it, and he's had it for so long.”
Santangelo said that Franklin was fortunate to be on the leading edge of the renovations sweeping the Portland School District. He praised the district for its investment in athletics.
“They're not only making sure the facilities are better, but they're making sure we have youth sports to keep that train rolling,” he said. “That's pretty huge. As long as they can keep that going, we have one of the biggest communities, and we have probably the best place to compete, so there's no reason we can't have more success than we've had in the last five to 10 years.”
Santangelo, who lives in Gresham with his wife Lisa, said he plans to do some traveling in his free time. But he probably will drop in at Franklin from time to time.
“I don't want to go cold turkey and just do nothing,” said Santangelo, who turns 60 in September. “If they ask me to help with the girls basketball tournament or the district track meets, I definitely would be willing to do that. I think going from 60 hours a week to nothing is going to be rough.”