Local hockey standout Patille returns from first year at Taft

Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: Dominic Patille recently returned home from his first year away at the Taft School in Watertown, Conn.Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: Dominic Patille recently returned home from his first year away at the Taft School in Watertown, Conn.Like most kids growing up in Sussex County, Ocean View native Dominic Patille spent most of his springs on the baseball diamond, behind the plate as a catcher for the Lower Sussex Little League.

Unlike most kids growing up in Sussex County, however, Patille also spent most of his winters traveling around to rinks in Harrington and Easton, Md., typically finishing up homework assignments in the back of his father’s pickup on the way to practice, to keep alive his childhood dream of one day playing professional ice hockey.

That still being the case following his freshman year at Indian River High School, when Patille was accepted into the Taft School — a highly selective private co-ed boarding school in Watertown, Conn., with both a baseball and hockey team — the chance to play both sports at the high-school level was the chance he had been waiting for.

“The harder decision wasn’t going away — it was which school to go to,” said Patille, who was accepted into three other highly ranked schools with hockey programs throughout Connecticut and New Hampshire. “I think it was someone that my mom worked with — her son played hockey, too, and was going away to prep-school. At the time, my dream was to play in the NHL, so that was how I first got into it.”

“Dominic absolutely championed the whole idea of going to prep-school,” said Patille’s father, Mike, of his son. “Since elementary school, that’s always what he wanted to do. The hockey and baseball at Taft were great, but the academics is really what sold his mom and I.”

Patille had earned a partial scholarship to Taft, where he was also recruited to play baseball and ready to keep his hockey dreams alive by taking the ice with one of the top programs in the Northeast.

But after arriving on campus and waving goodbye to his parents and twin sister, Nicole, it wasn’t long into his sophomore year at Taft that he began to discover the world beyond the sports that had always been a part of his life — and all of the new opportunities that he had yet to realize.

From football to ‘Footloose’ (and a first ‘B’)

Not only did Patille earn the starting J.V. quarterback spot after being invited to go out for the football team at Taft, but after enrolling in an acting class to satisfy an art requirement, he was also encouraged to go out for the school’s production of “Footloose,” too.

“Honestly, that’s not something that I ever thought I’d do,” Patille said. “We have to take three semesters of art. Acting seemed cool, so I chose that first semester, and I ended up really liking it. I loved the teacher — she was putting on the fall play and asked me to go out for it.”

While taking up acting was far from what he expected, receiving his first B after the school’s first marking period was perhaps even more so.

Despite the backseat studying on the way to hockey practice since the age of 7, Patille had still always managed to maintain a near-perfect grade-point average.

At Taft, however, he was now on his own in balancing sports, acting, advanced AP courses and everything else that comes with first-year dorm life and independence.

“It was kind of a wakeup call, really,” Patille explained. “I learned so much. I would walk into the headmaster’s office and talk to him — not only about studying but just how to not get stressed out mentally or overload yourself with work and class choices, and things like that.

“Then I kind of figured out, ‘OK, this is how it’s going to be, and this is what I need to do — so now I’m gonna do it.’ I used it as motivation to perform to my highest ability.”

By the next marking period, not only had he figured out the school’s “study smart, not hard” credo, but the straight-A’s were back once again — his marks jumping by as much as 10 percentage points in some classes.

“We went to a symposium, and they told us exactly how it was going to play out before he got there,” said Mike Patille, “that these kids are going to learn how to pick themselves, and when they leave prep-school, they’re going to be prepared for college.”

When hockey and baseball season rolled around, not only was Patille better prepared for eventually handling the college experience — he had practically already experienced it.

But the life lessons didn’t stop there, as he’d found out the hard way that there are some things for which one just can’t be prepared.

Not here but still there

Growing up not only as brother and sister — but as twins — the sibling rivalry has always made for some healthy competition for Dominic Patille and his twin sister, Nicole.

While Dom was taking the mound for baseball teams at Lower Sussex, Nicole was taking the circle for LSLL softball teams — recently wrapping up her sophomore season by helping lead Indian River High School to their first final-four appearance in the DIAA state tournament in the last 10 years.

But while they may now be 300 miles apart, after being separated for the first time in 16 years, they’ve never been closer.

“Before he left, I always thought it would be nice when he left. But when he was gone, it was tough the first few weeks,” said Nicole Patille. “When he left, it took some getting used to, because we always threw together, I’d see him in the halls at school and at the dinner table, and he’d helped me with my math homework. But it was hardest to adjust to the fact that he wasn’t one room over anymore; now he was five hours away. I really took that fact for granted before he left.”

“All last summer, it was ‘When are you leaving?’ And then, as soon as he was gone, you could see how much she really does care about him,” said Mike Patille, going on to describe the family dinner after one of Nicole’s softball games in New Jersey this past fall.

“I went to pick up Dom from Connecticut, and we all went out to dinner after the game. We just sat back while they talked to each other the whole time. After dinner, Nicole gave him a hug —probably 20 minutes she didn’t let go — soaked his shirt, crying. I thought, ‘Alright, I guess we did something right.’ They’re both so proud of each other. The relationship between them just makes you feel good.”

During the Indians’ run this spring, Dom was keeping up to date with every game, while Nicole showed her support by sporting Taft baseball and hockey gear in the dugout.

“Being away from everything that I had known for so many years — it kind of felt like something was missing. So I always wanted to keep up with Nicole and how softball and everything was going here,” said Dom Patille. “It kind of made me feel still a little bit at home and like I might not be so far away after all.”

Back to Taft

After returning home to Sussex County this spring, Patille will get a chance to catch up his family this summer and celebrate Nicole’s recent news of verbally committing to play Division I softball at Siena College in New York.

While she continues to work with pitching coach Les Riggleman and does some traveling of her own to tournaments in Colorado with coach Brian Kalesse and the New Jersey Nightmare travel ball team, Dominic will be saving up for school while working as a lifeguard at Sea Colony.

As for his return to Taft this fall, however, whether it comes to the rink, the baseball diamond or, now, even the stage, he’s heading into his junior year with a brand new outlook and plenty of lessons learned.

“Now that I’ve gone away, it’s just really helped me put everything that I was doing into perspective and learn how to do it better,” he said. “There’s so many opportunities. I’m learning so much about myself even that I didn’t even realize that I would like to do or that I would like to study — it’s really broadening my horizons and opening the doors.”

And while he hopes one of those doors might one day lead to the Ivy League, no matter where they lead, he’s confident in his decision to take up an opportunity that not many kids get a chance to, regardless of where they grow up.

“Even with his scholarship, tuition is expensive. So we tried to instill that, not only is this a big honor for him to be selected, but that it was a big deal for us to get him there,” said Mike Patille. “I think he appreciated that and respected that, and you could see that in his grades second semester.”

“I have always been proud of what Dom has accomplished. As a kid, he always talked about going away to school — he was determined,” added Nicole Patille of her twin brother. “He works hard to keep the grades that he does, and that pushes me to be better. We were always encouraging each other to do better, and we both want the best for each other in whatever we do.”