What makes a champion?
For the past 25 years, 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 the director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments in nearby Norwich, knows that 4:30 signifies the start of cross country practice and the opportunity to work with his extended family, the talented harriers at Connecticut College.
“Seeing these guys invigorates me,” said Butler, the head coach of the men's program. “Seeing them improve their times really keeps me going. It brings me a lot of joy. Some times, they give me gray hair but that happens.”
Celebrating 25 years
Earlier this fall, dozens of Camels from the past and present congregated on campus to celebrate Butler’s silver anniversary at the College. Charles Luce, Butler’s first athletic director, spoke along with current athletic director Fran Shields. Twenty-seven alumni flew in from as far as Russia and Peru to salute their leader and mentor on a celebrated occasion.
Butler’s colleague, Ned Bishop ’84, the head coach of the women's cross country team as well as the track and field program, coordinated the event.
“Jim is as motivated and committed and hard working as anybody I’ve ever known,” Bishop said. “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 experience with the Camels. But the 2002 season holds a special place is in his heart.
That year, the College finished fourth at the New England Division III Championships, qualifying as a team for the NCAA Division III National Championships. Butler was named the NCAA Division III New England Region Coach of the Year.
Team and family
Butler and his wife of 31 years, Debbie, have two children: Brendan and Devon, Connecticut College Class of 2010. They have hosted numerous gatherings at their home in New London.
Doug Wright ’12, a co-captain of the 2011 team, says the team concept is instilled in everyone on the roster, regardless of where they might finish or how fast they are.
“Coach really wants us all of us to run to our highest potential, from the first guy to #22,” Wright said. “He encourages us to listen to our body and to run smart.”
“He is very respectful and to everyone on the team,” said fellow captain Brenner Green. “He really inspires everyone to work to their best ability.”
Every Thursday, Butler starts the practice with a session called "how you feeling, whatcha thinking." The team gathers in a circle and discusses things going on in their lives, athletically, academically, socially. It's one of those effective ways Butler has found to make a personal connection and promote 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 be able to compete with a passionate coach at a highly selective liberal arts college.
“Coach would do anything for us,” LeDuc said. “He cares about all of us.”
Butler isn't slowing down, either. With a solid nucleus in place, it would not be a surprise to see the Camels back in the NCAA Championship in the next couple of years.
-- Will Tomasian