For 25 years, men's cross country head coach Jim Butler has looked forward to 4:30 p.m. as his favorite time of day.
Butler, who thrives in his full-time position as director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments in nearby Norwich, knows that late afternoon hour signifies the start of cross country practice and the opportunity to work with his extended family, the talented harriers of Connecticut College.
"Seeing these guys invigorates me," Butler says. "Seeing them improve their times really keeps me going. It brings me a lot of joy. Sometimes they give me gray hair, but that happens."
In October, dozens of Camels congregated on campus to celebrate Butler's silver anniversary at the College. Charles Luce, Butler's first athletic director, returned to New London for the occasion, and alumni flew in from as far as Russia and Peru to salute their leader and mentor.
Ned Bishop '84, head coach of track and field and women's cross country, organized the event.
"He is as motivated and committed and hard working as anybody I've ever known," Bishop says. "He's very fair to his athletes and he genuinely cares about them and their success - not just competitively, but their success as people, as human beings, as students at Connecticut College. They perform for him because they know how much he cares about them."
Butler has many fond memories from his quarter century with the Camels. But the 2002 season holds a special place is in his heart.
In that historic year, Connecticut College finished fourth at the New England Division III Championships, qualifying for the NCAA Division III National Championships. The Camels placed 20th at nationals, and Butler was named the NCAA Division III New England Region Coach of the Year.
"I really appreciated how hard that team worked to achieve a goal that they had set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year," Butler says. "It's not an easy thing to do, as we're finding out year after year. It was a special team and a special time for us."
The team concept is instilled in everyone on the roster, regardless of where they might finish, co-captain Doug Wright '12 says. "Coach really wants all of us to run to our highest potential, from the first guy to No. 22," he says. "He encourages us to listen to our body and to run smart."
Co-captain Brenner Green '12 says he was impressed with Butler's approach during the recruiting process. "He really seemed like he really cared when he was recruiting me," Green says. "He made a lot of follow-up calls and asked how everything was going."
Every Thursday, Butler starts practice with a "how you feeling, whatcha thinking" session. The team gathers in a circle and discusses things going on in their lives - athletically, academically, socially. It's one of many ways Butler makes personal connections and promotes team unity.
Mike LeDuc '13, an All-American in the steeplechase and First Team All-NESCAC performer on the cross country trails, feels fortunate to compete with a passionate coach at a highly selective, liberal arts college.
"Coach would do anything for us," LeDuc says. "He cares about all of us."
- By Will Tomasian
December 12, 2011