Memories of a year in the Purple Valley…


We have had a lot of free time recently to think through some things. It occurred to me as we drove through Maine when we arrived here two weeks ago that we had not been in this part of the country for nearly 10 years. New England is a very historic and incredible place; the cradle of our country’s history and beginning. The communities came to mind as we passed through or near them: Portland, Waterville, and Brunswick. It brought back memories of when we lived in this part of the country for one academic year: 1999-2000.

During that year, I had the privilege of working on my mentorship for my graduate degree in sport management at the top liberal arts college in the country, Williams College. This school is nestled in the Berkshires just 45 minutes east of Albany, New York. I had visited this incredible school in the summer of 1991 while working as a camp counselor at Raquette Lake Camps in New York State. I remember touring the campus and saying to myself, “If I ever get the chance to work at this school, I will jump at that chance.” Little did I know that I would get that chance eight years later.

I had been a Bible College coach and teacher in the Kansas City area for two years when I decided to take a risk, step out on faith, and go after an opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest students in the country. I sent my resume to all of the top Division III schools in New England in search of an opportunity to learn and grow as a coach and a man.

One day before heading down to Alabama to finish my coursework for my master’s degree I got a call from one of those schools: Williams. The person on the other end of the line was a coach who I had heard so many great things about. His name was Harry Sheehy. Harry was one of the top coaches in Division III history, a former Athletes in Actions team member (here is an interesting story from his days with AIA), and a Christian. He offered me the opportunity to work with him and complete my 360-hour mentorship. That day in May 1999 still goes down as the most exciting days in my career.

Candy and I decided to go there for that year shortly after the call. I have always been thankful that Candy was so willing to leave Kansas City and her business at the time (independent software instruction) and follow my dreams of coaching at a higher level. She would end up working at Green Mountain College in Vermont as the volleyball coach and compliance coordinator during that year, while I worked on my mentorship as a volunteer assistant basketball coach under Harry. We drove our Hyundai Elantra (stuffed with whatever we could get in it and complete with leaking windshield, non-functioning stereo and bad right front wheel) to Massachusetts with just enough money to get there. We did not know where we would live, where money would come from, or how the whole thing would work out. We did not know anyone there. All we had was faith.

I remember it like it was yesterday meeting Coach Sheehy in the parking lot of a Cumberland Farms convenience store phone booth in a driving rain storm. We had been there for a couple of days and he and his wife, Connie, had been on vacation and had just arrived back home from it. We were about to go find a parking lot to sleep in the car and were out of money. We only had one hope: call him and hope he had arrived back home. Luckily for us, he was home.

They opened their home to us for a couple of nights as we looked for a place to live. We did find something in the area that allowed us to pay our deposit over some time and we were in two days later.

We met some great people during that year, including Harry’s dad, who, like Harry, had been a star athlete at Williams. “Pop” was a character (he always got all over me for not saying “Worcester” correctly) as were some of his friends we would run into on Spring Street on most days. We also saw a community that loved their student-athletes… it was great to be part of something so special.

During that year, Candy and I learned so much about ourselves and learned to lean into one another more than we ever had before. In January 2000, Candy was involved in a car accident where she was injured and destroyed our Elantra (without full insurance). This was before we had cell phones so I did not find out until I was coming back from a game at Amherst College that I had gone with the staff to scout. During this time, Connie, Frank Zoltek, one of the assistant coaches who had been Harry’s right hand man for many years, and Mike Frawley, the athletic trainer at Williams, had helped Candy get through the tough time until I got home. I will never forget the care that these folks showed us. Harry also allowed us to borrow his Mazda car to help us get around and get Candy to and from Vermont for her job.

I have never worked with a better motivator than Coach Sheehy. He had a masterful way of reaching every person, including his staff. We won 20 games in his final campaign and to this day that was the most impressive coaching job I have ever witnessed. We won the very first NESCAC Championship during that season and he was named NESCAC Coach of the Year. He got everything and then some out of his team. I was fortunate enough to be on his last coaching staff as he would become the athletic director at Williams in the summer of 2000. This staff also recruited the class that would end up winning the 2003 Division III National Title and losing in the 2004 title game at the buzzer. He left an incredible legacy that is still very successful.

He was a master story teller (I think I am this way because of that one year with him!) and a great communicator. He never had to use profanity to get his point across…he lived out his faith through his leadership in coaching. One of my favorite lessons from him was when he illustrated to the team the importance of being in or out with the team. He would have two feet in one place and say “you are either in”, and then he would step to the right with both feet and say “or out.” To him, there was no straddling the line when it came to hard work or being a team member. I have used that on numerous occasions in my career since then.

After that season, I interviewed for jobs as a head coach all over the country. The experience helped me get chances I never would have gotten without it. I ended up at Grove City College and had a great stay there and then was named head coach at Hiram College in 2003. One memorable story from that time revolved around my pursuit of a specific head coaching job. I once asked him in a phone call, “Do you think this job can get me back to the NESCAC?” He replied, “It will either get you back to NESCAC or you will be the best insurance salesman around!” The ironic thing is he was nearly right…I ended up working for Enterprise Rent-a-Car and selling insurance to renters on a daily basis after leaving Hiram College. Go figure…

He just finished his first year at Dartmouth as the athletic director. I had read that he is already making a difference there, which is no surprise to me. Last night, I had the chance to watch some video on YouTube that featured Harry speaking at Williams about some of his experiences during his long-tenured career there. It just brought back so many memories from that special year where I learned what it took to truly be a head college coach…and a genuine leader.

I have never really told our Williamstown story or truly thanked Harry for giving me the chance to further my career and life. So, if you are reading this, thanks, Coach, for your influence in our life. Driving through this part of the country brought that to mind…I hope you all enjoyed the story and I hope you, too, can thank someone who has made an impact on your life.

by tim

show hide 2 comments

06.02.2011 - 4:13 pm

Mom Awesome story, Tim…brought back memories of places we visited and people you told me about when I visited you and Candy at Williams and Grove City.

06.02.2011 - 4:40 pm

Tim Thanks for the kind words. I know we have taken some risks (only a few :)) but that was a big one! That is what has made our lives pretty neat.

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