Years after his college and pro basketball career came to an end, Trumbull High School House Principal Todd Manuel is still dishing out assists.

Manuel, who was recently named the 2020 Assistant Principal of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Schools, handed out credit for the award to his fellow administrators, teachers and staff.

“I’m the one receiving the award, but it’s really representative of the great work of a lot of people,” Manuel said. “These people I work closely with are the key, and the key for me is to keep everything moving forward.”

Manuel was selected for the honor from among every assistant principal at every school in the state. He will now be considered for the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ national award.

“Todd has demonstrated excellent leadership, commitment to our staff and students, service to our community, and contribited to the overall profession of educational leadership,” said THS Principal Marc Guarino.

School Supt. Gary Cialfi, who nominated Manuel for the award, said it was Manuel’s commitment to helping each student reach his or her potential that made him a natural choice for the honor.

“Whether they are an average student, above average, or an academic superstar, he sees every student’s opportunity for growth,” Cialfi said.

Manuel is the principal of C House at the school, meaning he oversees students whose last names begin with the letters O through Z, and about 40 staff. He also has been closely involved with students who show an interest in business, serving as a liaison with the Trumbull Business Education Initiative and as a DECA coordinator.

“One of the things we have been able to do is to get the DECA students learning business through the school store,” Manuel said. “Before, it was more school-based, and now it’s more of a learning lab.”

For example, as a learning exercise, students could research methods of advertising, institute a strategy, and track the month-to-month results, Manuel said.

In addition, Manuel said another important aspect of his job has been communicating with staff and students.

“A lot of it is being a good listener,” he said. “When people feel heard, they tend to work and take on more responsibility. And if someone has an idea that we think will be good for kids, I want to try and make sure we do it.”

A New Canaan native, Manuel traveled a roundabout route to his current post. But the value of education is something that was ingrained in him at an early age. In fact, it was at an earlier age than anyone else in Connecticut.

“My mother was an educator who started Toddler Time, the first nursery school for two-year-olds in the state,” he said. “I was in her first class back in 1980.”

Manuel’s father was a naval aviator, flying F-4 fighters, and Manuel spent much of his childhood in Florida, eventually returning to Connecticut to play basketball for a season at St. Thomas More in Oakdale before returning to Florida to accept a basketball scholarship at the University of Miami, a big-time athletic program competing in the Big East Conference against schools like UConn, Georgetown and Syracuse.

But injury and a family illness led him to transfer to St. Anselm College, a smaller Division II school in New Hampshire. Still, Manuel credits the move with helping him develop his administrative skills. Though he would become a prolific scorer at St. Anselm, inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2018, he never forgot his time as a bench player for the Hurricanes.

“I think that’s part of becoming a listener,” he said. “The life experience contributed to my professional experience.”

But Manuel’s education career would have to wait, as his athletic career continued for abother four years of professional basketball in Europe, primarily the Netherlands. After his playing days ended, he came to Trumbull High as a business teacher, before making the move into administration. The move came as a surprise to some, who saw the close connection he had with his students.

“People ask why would I want to become an administrator, when the thing I loved most about teaching was the 140 students a day that came into the classroom?” he said. “But I thought, maybe I can work with the teachers that work with their 140 students a day, and have more of a macro effect on the entire building.”

Cialfi said Manuel’s effect extends well beyond the walls of Trumbull High, and well into the future. He cited the March 2019 student protest against school violence. What could have been a confrontation between angry students and frustrated staff became a positive and powerful statement of unity due to the cooperative relationship between Manuel and other staff and student leaders and a focus on what everyone could agree on, Cialfi said.

“The students and staff were very much together in making a supportive, positive experience,” Cialfi said. “What came out of it was a celebration of the importance of safe schools.”