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Aug. 26, 2021

Spartan Athletics mourns the passing of Executive Associate AD Jim Pignataro

Michigan State mourns the passing of Jim Pignataro, the executive associate athletic director for Student-Athlete Services at Michigan State University. Pignataro was 49.

While his career featured stints at three other institutions, Pignataro spent most of his professional life at Michigan State, where he was dedicated to the overall care of Spartan student athletes. An extremely selfless person, his concerns always centered around what was best for the athletic department, and how the staff could ensure that student athletes left MSU as better men and women, thoroughly prepared for life beyond athletics.

Prior to being elevated to his most recent position, Pignataro served as the associate athletic director for Student-Athlete Services (2008-15) and director of Student-Athlete Support Services from 2002-17. He oversaw the directors of Student-Athlete Engagement, Academic Services, Athletic Training, Strength and Conditioning and Sports Nutrition in addition to serving as a sport administrator for several Spartan programs. 

Pignataro served as the assistant to the director and athletics academic coordinator at Michigan State from 1996-2000. He left MSU to serve as the assistant athletics director for academics at Eastern Michigan University from June 2000 to June 2002. Prior to his arrival at MSU, he worked in Athletic Academic Services at Florida State University (1995-96) and the University of Tennessee (1994-1995).

“Over the last 25 years, there may have been no one with a greater impact on the MSU student-athlete experience than Jim Pignataro,” said Todd Edwards, executive director of Student-Athlete Support Services. “He was a mentor and friend to many. Jim embodied the servant leader, always thinking of the students and his staff, and what he could do for them. His devotion to his faith and his wonderful family, his wife Alana [and children] Alison and Jimmy, is an example for all of us. He had a tremendous impact on my life, and I will deeply miss my dear friend.”

“There was no one more passionate about his job, but, more importantly, there really wasn't a better human than Jim,” notes Angela (Howard) Montie, the director of Student-Athlete Development and Pignataro's colleague for nearly 25 years. “Next to his family, Michigan State and the student athletes meant the world to him. His reach, however, went far beyond our community — he was a leader in our profession, and his loss is being felt around the country from those who interacted with him throughout his career. He touched so many lives. While I will certainly miss him as a colleague, I will more so miss my friend.”

“Brother, mentor, friend and man of God. Those are the words that describe Jim Pignataro,” said Elliott Daniels, MSU associate athletic director for Student-Athlete Engagement and a long-time colleague. “As a former student athlete of his at Eastern Michigan and working under his leadership here at MSU, words cannot express his impact on my life over the past 21 years. Jim introduced me and so many industry leaders to a career in college athletics and did so in such an authentic way. His light shines bright and his impact on athletics is felt nationally. Alana, Alison and Jimmy are forever in His grip and in our prayers.”

“I first met Jim when we worked together at Eastern Michigan 20 years ago,” said MSU Baseball Head Coach Jake Boss Jr. “Jim loved baseball, he loved the Boston Red Sox and he loved Michigan State. I think Jim was the best in the business and an even better friend. With him being a baseball guy and a former student-athlete in college, he was always a tremendous advocate for Michigan State baseball. His passion and dedication to all Spartan student athletes was second to none, and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Alana, Alison and Jimmy.”

Pignataro's service to his profession extended beyond East Lansing. In 2014 he served as president of National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals, leading the association into its first year as an affiliate member with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. 

In June 2016, Pignataro was named the recipient of the organization's Lan Hewlett Award, which acknowledges distinguished service in the field of student-athlete academic and personal development.

“I am truly honored to have had the privilege of having a relationship with a mentor, legacy-builder and titan in our profession like Jim Pignataro,” said Ashton Henderson, a former football letterwinner at MSU, a former graduate assistant in Student-Athlete Support Services and the current N4A President. Now the current Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Detroit Pistons, Henderson has longed viewed Pignataro as a mentor. 

“He really meant everything to me, providing stability and advice as I made any major life decisions,” continued Henderson. “As a graduate assistant at MSU, I was able to see him execute the role of N4A president — which helped solidify for me the dream and vision to lead as he did. It meant the world to me that he saw me sworn into leadership at N4A. As I lead, I will ensure that the legacy he left will not be forgotten. I am thankful that he took a chance on me, and was so lucky to see the professionalism, character, dignity and pride that he brought to his roles both at Michigan State and in our organization.”

Born in Queens, New York, Pignataro grew up in Raymond, Maine, and graduated from Gray-New Gloucester High School in 1990. He was a multi-year varsity letter winner in baseball at the University of Maine at Farmington. He received his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary business administration/economics from UMF in 1994 and a master's degree in athletics administration from Tennessee in 1995. He is survived by his wife Alana, and two children, Alison and Jimmy. 

A public celebration of Jim's life will take place outdoors adjacent to the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center on the MSU campus at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2021. Guests are invited to park in Lot 79 south of Spartan Stadium and enter the football practice field through the gates on Shaw Lane. A memorial service with limited capacity for family and close friends will take place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2 at the River Terrace Church (1509 River Terrace Drive in East Lansing, MI). In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Jim Pignataro Memorial Fund through the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union to support the future educational expenses of his children and for charitable contributions to support lymphoma research.

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