Former Central AD taking over at Center Grove

GREENWOOD — Always shoot your shot.

When he heard that Center Grove was seeking a new athletics director, former Central Middle School athletics director Joe Bronkella wasn’t sure what his chances were, but he knew there was only one way to find out.

“I was like, ‘Man, that’s a pretty high-level, prestigious job,’” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to take a jab at it.’”

His jab turned out to be more of a knockout punch — Bronkella was formally approved as the Trojans’ next AD during Thursday night’s school board meeting.

Bronkella comes to Johnson County from Madison Consolidated Schools, where he has served the last five years as the athletics director for both the high school and the middle school. During his tenure, the Cubs made considerable upgrades to their sporting facilities, including the addition of a turf football field and resurfacing of the track, a new football locker room and a fitness area in between the high school baseball and softball fields.

He arrives at Center Grove knowing that most of the heavy lifting on facilities here has already been done over the past five or six years. From turf fields for every varsity outdoor sport to a new state-of-the-art natatorium, Bronkella won’t be wanting for anything on that front anytime soon.

“They are superb up there,” Bronkella said, “so it’s kind of like I’m continuing with what I built here. … I’m walking into a place that they already have done a lot of that legwork.”

Center Grove principal Jeffry Henderson said Thursday that Bronkella’s work ethic what has impressed him the most. The fact that he also has experience navigating independence didn’t hurt matters, either — Madison left the Hoosier Hills Conference after the 2020-21 school year, and Center Grove is entering its first full year outside of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

“That’s certainly something that Joe spoke to in the process, that he was not afraid of that,” Henderson said.

Prior to his tenure in Madison, Bronkella was the athletic director at Central, where he also taught physical education. He also worked as an assistant football coach at Columbus East.

In his younger days, Bronkella was a middle school AD in his hometown of Anderson. He doubled as a wide receivers coach at the high school, where the quarterback at the time was current Center Grove wrestling coach Maurice Swain.

“I don’t know if he remembers me,” Bronkella said.

While the Center Grove job was an alluring one for Bronkella, accepting it wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk; the rest of his family is fairly well entrenched at Madison. His wife Collette is the district’s preschool coordinator and their daughters Grace and Libby are high school upperclassmen who had no desire whatsoever to uproot and move.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t encourage their dad to.

“They are goal-oriented kids that said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to do it,’” Bronkella said of his daughters.

Bronkella was apartment hunting in the Center Grove area this week, and he’s planning to spend his weekdays there and heading south to see his family when he can — “Thank goodness the IHSAA doesn’t require events on Sunday,” he said. As for being able to stay connected while he’s working, he’s banking on video calls and the fact that Madison is well equipped to broadcast its sporting events.

“If COVID brought one thing, it brought that for us,” Bronkella said. “Technology is such a great blessing for that.”

Though confident in his own abilities, Bronkella isn’t planning to make wholesale changes right away at Center Grove. He does feel that he can add a new voice to the conversation, but mostly, he’s excited to have the opportunity to lead one of the state’s top athletic departments and help bring them to an even higher level.

“A different perspective may be helpful,” he said, “but the programs, the traditions, the excellence they have up there, that drew me to want to be a part of that.”