The “New” MAC: Open With New Energy


The Manchester Athletic Club – under new management – is open and ready to get you back into shape after COVID. 

“We have a new executive director who is very well-versed in the field,” says the MAC’s manager of marketing and sales, Jonah Feingold.  “We just want to show people that ... we are still here and there are going to be some very exciting things to come in the near future.” 

The new man in charge is Bobby Verdun, a former basketball coach at Salem State University and basketball and tennis coach at Franklin Pierce University. 

But key to his work at MAC is Verdun’s years as a consultant for Active Entities Consulting, where he has worked nationally and globally to develop fitness and wellness centers. 

“For the last 20 plus years, I’ve been involved in the (health club) industry as an operator of some of the best clubs in the country,” says Verdun. “I’m a consultant in the firm that’s recognized as one of the top firms in the country – Active Entities Consulting.” 

Verdun says his work with AEC has involved multi-purpose facilities, not unlike the MAC, right up to “facilities that have 75 acres with 25 baseball fields, eight basketball courts and hotels.” 

Verdun, who lives in Marblehead and says he has played a lot of tennis in the past at the MAC, said that he was introduced by a mutual industry colleague who thought he could support their new venture as a consultant.  That “new venture” was the Manchester Athletic Club, and the more they talked, the more they realized the potential fit went beyond consulting.

“At first, I never thought I would jump back in the operator’s seat, because I know professionally, coming out of Covid, working with over 100 clubs over the last couple of years, the commitment it takes,” says Verdun.  “But it’s all about people for me and I really was very interested in working for them, with the staff that I met here that stayed on.” 

The MAC, which has been operating for 45 years, was one of the first multi-sport health clubs on the North Shore.  But when Cell Signaling bought 50 acres of land off Atwater Avenue this summer, including the 10 acres comprising the MAC, the future of the club was in doubt.  

Fortunately, a deal was worked out to allow the club to continue.  Jess and Josh Pletka, who have been members of the club, leased the club’s land from Cell Signaling starting in October. 

“There’s a lot of history here, going back to John Donovan when he owned it,” says Verdun. “I knew him well. I think Anthony (Simboli) did a fine job as an owner for the years he had it. 

Like with anything, after COVID, especially in our industry, people had to make decisions. But the bottom line is it stayed open.”

Verdun says that 32 percent of health clubs across the nation closed for good during the COVID pandemic. 

People got out of their normal habits during COVID. “So now we have to reinvent habits,” says Verdun.  “I think we have some fine professionals that will help people and welcome them back here.” 

Among those staff members who will be in charge of different areas of the club are some that have been with the club for many years and others that are new.  Feingold joined the club in September 2021.  Others include Director of Tennis Francisco Montoya, Director of Group Fitness Lindsay Mzaouakk, Director of Aquatics Beth Lott, Marion Hopping, in charge of child-care, Tennis Manager Laurie Potter and Nikki Parisi, who will be the director of older active adults. 

Verdun is looking forward to working with his top staff, particularly the tennis staff. 

“This is arguably one of the best tennis groups I’ve seen in the Northeast,” says Verdun.  “It is one of the few tennis programs in the country that have their full coaching staff intact since COVID and that’s a tribute to Francisco. ... It’s not a surprise that his people stayed on. He was very dedicated to them.” 

“The two ingredients that make a club great, as opposed to good, are people and programs,” said Verdun.  “We obviously have the people. We are developing some brand-new programs.” 

One of the new programs the club is offering is a family membership. 

“Families are the essence of a successful sports entity and to that end we’ve established a new family membership that will result in hundreds of dollars of savings for our family members,” said Verdun.

Feingold says that one change he has seen since the Pietkas took over was the emphasis placed on cleanliness.  

Verdun says they have brought back the basketball court and plan to bring back birthday parties in the pool. Pickleball is a growing sport and the MAC will provide courts to play on. The bubble over the tennis courts will also come down for the summers. “It will feel like a country club out there for families,” said Verdun. “But affordable.”  

During the past year, Verdun has gone Hollywood, working as an adviser to movie star Adam Sandler on the Netflix movie, “Hustle.” Sandler plays an advance scout for the Philadelphia Sixers, who has to advise some young players.  

“I met Adam about four years ago and we became good friends through basketball while he was filming ‘Hubie’ here (in Salem, Marblehead and other locations on the North Shore),” says Verdun. “Then he asked if I would come and be his adviser (on ‘Hustle’) and I did.” 

He says his job was to help make Sandler’s character as authentic as possible. In one scene, Sandler talks to a player about how to cover this or that person on the court. 

“I went for a walk with (Sandler) and I said to him, ‘It’s not about loving the game, it’s about living the game,” says Verdun. 

“That’s why I got out of it,” he adds. “Because I want to be at home with my kids.” 

Verdun calls Sandler’s performance “unbelievable” and thought it was possible Sandler would be nominated for an Oscar this year. 

Verdun’s versatility is a hallmark that he hopes will translate at the MAC, along with flexibility, affordability and a sense of community. 

manchester athletic club, gymazing marion hopping, director of group fitness lindsay mzaouakk, director of aquatics, nikki parisi