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Don't worry, this is not about me. But I will admit a connection.   I am a proud graduate of Haverford College, a very small and very elite college on the main line of Philadelphia.  And thus I was surprised and delighted when I turned this morning to the NY Times Website and on the front page encountered At Haverford, Tossing It All in Name of Teaching, which begins as follows:

HAVERFORD, Pa. — Holding his award in his hands, Tom Donnelly, Haverford College’s longtime men’s cross-country and track coach, walked to the banks of the Mississippi River and tossed the trophy in the water. This was 2001, but it could have been any of several years that Donnelly has won an N.C.A.A. Division III Coach of the Year award.

He throws them all away.

"Usually in the garbage," Donnelly said, explaining that the 2001 season happened to come to an end next to the Mississippi. "We ran terrible that day, so I wasn’t waiting. I blamed myself."

Please keep reading.

Haverford has had its share of legendary coaches.  In soccer, the sport I played, Jimmy Mills was in the soccer hall of fame as both player and coach, and was picked to lead the 1956 US Olympic soccer team.  He was able to turn people with little experience into quality players, and in a time when there were no divisions in soccer we played teams that won national championships, turned out scads of All-Americans (as of the beginning of this decade we still had produced more than any other college or university).  Jimmy passed before one of his players, Joe Taylor (now retired from Princeton), won a Nobel prize in Physics.

But Tom Donnolly is in a class by himself, as you will learn by reading this article.  Consider this:  

62 regional and conference championships

113 all-Americans

24 individual N.C.A.A. champions

all that in the thirty-four years since Tom came down Lancaster Pike from Villanova where he had studied and run to coach at the much smaller Haverford, after a few years coaching at a local high school.

When I began at Haverford in 1963, we had less than 500 men.  The college has a bit over 1100 students now, the majority of whom are female, so the pool from which Donnolly draws his athletes is only a bit more than 500.  Kvein Foley was Tom's first national champion when he won the 1,500 in 1981 (and also the first Division III runner to break 4 minutes in the mile).  He notes

"For a team to place high at the N.C.A.A. cross-country championships, you have to get five guys to be among the top 50 finishers. So with about 500 men at Haverford, Tom has to get 1 percent of the male student body to be among the country’s best 50 runners. That’s insane."

And Haverford is Division III, which means there are no athletic scholarships.  

Tom is so well-regarded that he could easily go to a major university, for more money and prestige.  Consider this:

"Dunking that trophy is typical Tom and maybe explains his unbelievable success at such a small college," said Marcus O’Sullivan, the four-time Olympian who is now the head coach at Villanova University, a Division I track powerhouse. "Any time in the last 20 years Tom could have gone anywhere he wanted in college coaching. He’s that good. But Haverford has been his team and he could never get himself to look past any new class of kids coming in. He wanted to help them, so he has stayed. And look what he’s done."

 O'Sullivan, then the three-time indoor world champion in the 1,500, used to come down the pike to get individual coaching from Donnolly, as did the world record holder in the 1,500 meters Sydney Maree.

One of Tom Donnolly's greatest successes, J. B. Haglund, who won an NCAA Post-Graduate fellowship, scored a triple victory as a senior, winning the cross-country title, the indoor 5,000 and the outdoor 10,000.  Let me share what J. B. has to say:

"I was one of those far from exceptional high school runners who arrived at Haverford and was swept along by the program and Tom’s teachings," said J. B. Haglund, who as a senior in 2001-2 won the Division III championship in cross-country, 5,000 and 10,000 meters. "I remember one day seeing Marcus O’Sullivan on the track doing a Tom workout, and I remember that Tom spent as much time working with the slowest kid on our team that day as he did with Marcus.

"Whoever you are, if you want to come and work hard, Tom has time for you. He says this over and over: ‘The team is only as strong as the commitment of the least-accomplished person on the team.’ "

This year Tom's team had the highest GPA of any Division III team, 3.43.  At Haverford, academics still come first.

The coaching as teaching model is one that influenced my own days as a coach.  This year was the first in my 10 years in my high school that I have not been involved with coaching soccer.  For most of those years I coached JV, one year girls and six years boys.  The satisfaction was not so much all the games we won as it was seeing the players develop their potential, and learn to work together as a team.  And I was quite proud of my insistence on their maintaining their academic performance.  That came first.  I believe that proper coaching leads the student athlete to a self-discipline that transcends the boundaries of the individual sport and positively affects other areas of life, including academics.  And as I had to learn as a coach to modify my approach to the needs of my athletes, I found my own teaching also positively affected in a similar fashion.  And like good coaching, good teaching requires a great deal of preparation,and the ability to make modifications on the fly to meet the needs of the moment.

Even if you are not normally interested in athletics and coaching, I think you will find this article about Tom Donnolly interesting.  The occasion of this article is interesting:  the team finished 2nd in the conference Cross-country championship, ending  

a streak of 15 consecutive Haverford titles. One of Haverford’s top performers broke his leg earlier this season, and several of the team’s runners have been slowed by sickness.

"It’s not what we expected, but we acknowledge the other team’s accomplishment and we recover," Donnelly said. "It goes back to the essence of the educational experience. What can be learned from it? Probably a lot."

I did not overlap with Tom Donnolly, but as an alumnus have always been proud of what he has accomplished.  It is with delight that I encountered the piece in this morning's New York Times, and it is with pleasure that I have taken the time to share it with you.

The article ends with Tom working in his office handwriting letters to possible recruits.  It goes on

Looming above him on the walls, crammed from floor to ceiling, are more than 100 framed all-American certificates. One entire wall is just for Haverford track or cross-country national champions.

Why, he was asked, was it acceptable to keep and display those awards?

"Those recognize the achievements of some people who worked extremely hard and had great teammates," Donnelly answered. "I didn’t have anything to do with those."

Oh yes he did.

I hope you enjoyed it.


Originally posted to teacherken on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 03:07 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  thanks for reading (35+ / 0-)

    I am proud of my alma mater and of the many individuals whose work contribute to making it a wonderful place that helps shape young men and women. It is in that sense that I used my diary today to share this with you.

    Do with it what you will.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 03:08:11 AM PST

  •  Its not whether you win or lose... (4+ / 0-)

    but how you play the game...

    I join in you in celebrating excellence in coaching and in inspiring and teaching these young athletes.  I know from my own experience what good coaching can do for children.  Now that my own children are at the age in which they play and compete regularly, I alway hope they get a "good coach".  It not only makes or breaks the season but hopefully gives them lessons for a lifetime.

    Kudos to Coach Donnolly.

    Lisa in CT, RIP Silver, Midnight, Jinx, Bailey, Princess, and Sparkey. Our pets who died Oct. 11th in our devastating house fire. We will miss you always.

    by JellyBearDemMom on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 03:23:19 AM PST

    •  I also held out hope that my kids would get (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      a good coach.  Then I quickly realized that the best way to ensure they had a positive experience was to give it to them myself.

      I went from a being casual soccer fan to a nationally-certified youth coach and a regular player.  My teams of U9-U14 boys regularly out-perform their abilities, due to teamwork and trust.  We are never the fastest or most skilled--we simply play smart, play together and trust one another.

      We work hard, balance our soccer with "real life" things like homework and family time, and the kids learn about teamwork, responsibility, sportsmanship and giving full effort and intensity.  

      It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.  Just the title of "coach" to me is one of the highest compliments I think I can receive (right up there with "teacher").  It makes me proud that people trust me to teach their kids about sportsmanship and hard work.  

      Which is a long way of saying: jump in and become that "good" coach!  It's one of the hardest, most exasperating, challenging, rewarding, exciting and creative things you'll ever do.  Anyone can blow a whistle, but it takes hard work and commitment to do it right.  Make that commitment and you'll never regret it.

      •  I hope to... (0+ / 0-)

        I have had some family barriers to doing so in the past few seasons (which I won't go in to here).  But I have always wanted to coach (at least the sports with which I am familiar).  As the kids get older, there may be some opportunities to do so, I hope.

        Thanks for the response, I don't disagree with you.

        Lisa in CT, RIP Silver, Midnight, Jinx, Bailey, Princess, and Sparkey. Our pets who died Oct. 11th in our devastating house fire. We will miss you always.

        by JellyBearDemMom on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 10:53:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  good morning teacherken (3+ / 0-)

    I was just wondering who you think Obama should appoint as Sec. of Education. Anyone out there you like?

    •  I too want your thoughts as so little (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      attention was payed to this issue during the campaign.

    •  the position of Secretary may not matter (3+ / 0-)

      if he is going to actually run the policy from within the White House.  Of the names that have been "mentioned" I am most interested in Prof. Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford.  But I am hearing that she may actually be inside the WH itself.  Remember that the original proposal for NCLB came from within the White House, from Spellings and Sandy Kress, and that Rod Paige was basically a figurehead.

      I have heard a number of names for Secretary and for #2 (who runs dept on day to day basis) and I have real concerns about them.   But the key position within the department may be Asst Sec for Elementary and Secondary Education, and one name I am hearing for that position, Peter McWalter, would be a very interesting choice - as long-time head of RI's Dept of Education, he implemented a performance assessment requirement for HS graduation that is quite interesting.

      I have no inside information about what might be happening.  I have heard that Colin Powell is under real consideration for the position.  It is possible that one or more current or former governors might be under consideration, although Tom Vilsack, who would be a good choice, is more under consideration for Agriculture.

      I suspect we may not know until after Thanksgiving.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 04:34:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Gasp! He must be a socialist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, JellyBearDemMom

    Spending equal time with everyone - even the least talented member of the team.  He probably even shared his PB&J.

    Its great to see stories that aren't about great and individual accomplishment.

    Great story!  Thanks for sharing.

    The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States puts an exclamation point on Democracy!

    by SnowItch on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 04:18:37 AM PST

  •  Good Morning, teacherken (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Bule Betawi

    I am the mother of an athlete attending a Pac-10 University.  I have seen my share of coaches from early childhood to 3rd year of college.  I can honestly say that each and every one made some kind of impact.  What started out as a way to get my kid to burn off energy turned into a life lesson.  There is no doubt in my mind that some of the coaches along the way, changed the path that my kid has traveled.  I hope that their lives have been enriched because of their experiences in the same way our lives have been.  We never know the full story until the end, but we should take time to enjoy it as we pass along.  You have given me a reason to reflect this morning, and to enjoy those special moments again.  My athlete went from burning off boundless energy, to the true love of the game, to the ability to be recruited by colleges that would be at best a dream, to working every day at what many would consider a full-time job because coaches all along the way helped.

  •  Hey, It's my father's Alma-Mater too (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    I decided I'd be happier in a bigger, more urban school, but it's a great place.

    Numbers are like people . . . Torture them enough and they'll tell you anything.

    by Actuary4Change on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:01:39 AM PST

  •  Pimping a charity for young athletes (0+ / 0-)

    from the developing world, in memory of a friend of mine:

    The Jeremy Willson Charitable Trust

    Thanks for the uplifting story, teacherken.

  •  Thanks Ken (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I love hearing these stories of someone like Tom who wasn't worried about money and fame in sports. He just loved being part of it and helping people grow with sports as but one part of that growth.

    I was lucky enough to play a lot of team sports since Little League all the way through to semi-pro baseball to playing on a basketball team in my 50s. Even now I ride bicycles with a group of guys and we consider ourselves a team.

    I do remember a couple of coaches who seemed to take a special interest in me. In hindsight I always liked to think that they treated everyone like that. It helped to give me more of a sense of who I was and helped my growth as a person and framed my approach to life.

    I'm Ron Shepston and I'm not done yet. There's much left to accomplish.

    by CanYouBeAngryAndStillDream on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 08:21:10 AM PST

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