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Courtesy of Jeff Buffham

Tom Connor of Jamaica, who has coached at every level of baseball and basketball at Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend for the past 42 years, coached his final game last week.

Life and Work

End of an era at Leland & Gray

After 42 years of coaching, Tom Connor steps down

TOWNSHEND—In the late 1960s, a young teacher from Rutland was working on his master’s degree in education at Antioch College’s Putney campus. As part of his course work, he was assigned to the old Leland & Gray Seminary in Townshend.

Tom Connor, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph and the University of Vermont, already had a couple of years of teaching experience under his belt at Newbury High School in the Northeast Kingdom. But once he got to Townshend, he didn’t want to leave.

He joined the faculty of the newly-formed Leland & Gray Union High School District in 1969,  just as the new high school building was being erected.

Forty-two years later, Connor is still at the school, but as of this week, he has one responsibility taken from his plate. After 42 years of coaching at every level of the school’s baseball and basketball programs, he is stepping down. His last game leading the eighth-grade girls basketball team was Feb. 17.

Now 68, Connor hopes to continue as head of the school’s Journey East program, but says he is definitely thinking about retirement from the classroom too.

As a boy in Rutland, Conner played more baseball than basketball, because “I never grew in high school.” Between the Catholic Youth Organization programs in Rutland and his years at Mount St. Joseph, he said there was plenty of opportunities to get involved in sports.

“Rutland was a great place to grow up,” he said.

When he got to Leland & Gray, he immediately got involved coaching varsity baseball. The following school year, he added basketball to his coaching portfolio.

“I’ve coached everything but soccer,” he said. “Rutland wasn’t big on soccer when I went to school. Football was the fall sport.”

Connor had his greatest success with the Rebels as a varsity coach in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1977, he coached the boys’ basketball team to a Division III title. In 1978, he coached the girls’ basketball team into the Division III semifinals in 1978 and 1979. Also in 1979, he coached the baseball team to the Division III finals.

His favorite team was his boys’ varsity basketball teams in 1987 and 1988. After losing in the semifinals in 1987, the Rebels took the title the following year.

“I coached those guys since the seventh grade,” Connor said. “They all went as group to basketball camp at UVM when they were in junior high and they came back determined to win a state title. The 1987 and 1988 teams stand out because they were totally committed to doing whatever it took to be great.”

His varsity girls’ basketball teams in the 1970s had the same spirit. “A lot of them had jobs at the ski areas, but they still came to practice six days a week and worked hard to make themselves better.”

Hard work and dedication are the keys to athletic success, but what has impressed Connor over the years is the involvement of the student-athletes in other extra-curricular activities.

“We don’t have one-dimensional jocks here,” he said. “You see those same kids in the drama and music programs and all the other activities we have. I think it’s great.”

Connor teaches global studies at Leland & Gray, which makes him a natural fit for  Journey East. The program has sent more than 200 students to China and Inner Mongolia over the past decade.

“We’re doing interviews for the 2012 trip right now,” he said. “It’s truly a life-changing experience for every person who does it.”

After 42 years of coaching, Connor says he’s coaching the grandchildren of students he first coached in the early 1970s.

“The kids are blown away by that,” he said. “But I have loved it all. I have so many good memories from all the activities I’ve been involved in.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #89 (Wednesday, February 23, 2011).

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