Jeff Ward: Observations at the Start of the Year

Jeff Ward, Bowdoin’s Ashmead White Director of Athletics, loves his job. He also loves the start of a new academic year.

In his address at Convocation, President Mills spoke of the privilege of working at Bowdoin. He is so right. I never feel it more strongly than at the beginning of each academic year. The nervous anticipation of the first-years sits in contrast with the joyous return of upper-class students. They are all so talented, so energetic, and such good people.

When I come to work each morning, my path takes me through the Pickard Fields. Heat and Orientation have conspired to encourage our fall teams to begin their seasons with morning practices. I’ve been struck this year by the fitness level of our teams. We don’t “ease” into practice. You show up in shape or go home. The first practice for most teams is a conditioning test. It’s not the favorite day of the year, but students clearly came prepared. As I stroll across the fields, students are running everywhere. Great fitness is a common characteristic of Bowdoin teams, and that makes me really proud.

I feel a special bond with two members of the Class of 2014. Maddie Lane is one of my son’s best friends. She’s hung out in my house so much that she feels like part of my family. She’s going to play hockey for Bowdoin. If she manhandles NESCAC opponents the way she puts my son in his place, we’ll either be really successful or spend a lot of time in the penalty box.

Peyton Morss is the daughter of one my favorite former athletes. I coached her mom, Shelby, 30 years ago. It was wonderful to see Shelby again at drop-off. We haven’t seen each other in three decades, but still felt the connection of being part of the same team. Peyton broke her foot on her pre-orientation trip. When I ran into her on campus, she dismissed my question of how she was doing with a cast and crutches in 90-degree weather—it was no big deal. Her big smile and “make it work” attitude were a flashback to my days coaching her mom. She’s certainly her mother’s daughter.

I used lunch this past week as way to connect with captains before classes get started. Students create the culture and the climate on any campus, and captains play a huge role in the shaping Bowdoin. I always enjoy our captains, but this year’s group may be particularly strong. After one meeting, I spent a few minutes catching up with Kit Smith, co-captain of men’s ice hockey and lacrosse, and a Brunswick native. Wow, do students grow over four years! It’s easy to see the physical change. Kit must be five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. But it was his presence that blew me away. As we talked about his teams and their challenges, he was so thoughtful and so confident.

Leo Dunn, Class of 1975 and a member of the Hall of Honor selection committee, likes to tell me that he wants my job. He can’t have it. It’s too much fun and too inspiring. Truth be told, some days I think I should pay to come to work. But don’t tell the President…

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