No one who knows him would ever believe Coach Tom Butterfield when he says luck had a lot to do with his setting age records in the National Steeplechase competition during August. No one. About to begin his 50th year in coaching, it's all about setting the example he wants his kids to follow.
"We work hard and we have fun, but when it's time to get down to business and perform, my athletes were ready." Clearly, he's still setting the example, and he can still get his athletes to do what they need to do.
The coaching journey began in Bennington, Vermont, back in 1962, and included soccer, basketball, as well as cross country, indoor and outdoor track. It ran through Hartford's Weaver High School and is now at West Hartford's Hall High. Tom's overall coaching record is a gaudy 1195-331-2. Lucky schools...hardworking athletes and coach.
"You wouldn't believe what I had to do, especially in the early days." For example, at his high school in Vermont in 1963, the track team had only one wooden hurdle. No problem. They fashioned the needed hurdles out of saplings, shaped like "Y's," stuck in the ground. The cross piece was made out of another branch, laid horizontally across the "Y." Only trouble was, unbeknownst to anyone there, the hurdles were about 4" higher than high school regs, so when his hurdler, Billy Giles, competed at the Vermont State Meet in 1963, he thought the hurdles were so low they were very easy to get across.
They seemed so easy Giles won state titles in both hurdle events.
No problem. Find a way.
And so it went for nearly five decades now. Not that his teams had to improvise their equipment for all those years, but the theme was, work hard and do what you had to do when the time came to perform. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most competitive, Tom rates himself a 10, and his athletes pick right up on that attitude. Consider his 37 undefeated teams.
Looking back, Tom says that all kids, no matter what their environment, are the same. They have the same issues; they need a role model, and they need fair discipline. And nothing has changed his coaching philosophy in all these years, all these seasons, all those victories, all those athletes.
Kids remember the great coaches, even athletes on competing teams. One time, returning from a vacation in Hawaii, Tom and his wife Helen were waiting for a connecting flight at O'Hare in Chicago, and Helen commented that they were finally in a place where no one would know them. Right. A former athlete from Hartford Public, got off a plane in uniform, saw them, and said, "Hey. Coach Butterfield. What are you doing here?"
So many come back or stay in touch by e-mail now...doctors, lawyers, teachers, and some former athletes who now coach. Parents, too, have made it a point to write to Coach Butterfield thanking him for the part he played in their sons and daughters growing up. About ten years ago a parent wrote about how her awkward and shy daughter stated running as a freshman for Coach Tom and how cross country turned into indoor track and eventually turned into outdoor track and turned into 12 seasons of competitive high school running. And how does Coach Butterfield keep in touch with this former athlete...now a doctor? Facebook. Fifty years in coaching and as modern as a social network.
But perhaps the only testimony that outshines his lasting effect on his teams is his coaching record: 1195-331-2. Along the way he and his athletes won 28 City titles. They won the Hartford Invitation 10 times and the Greater Hartford Invite 22 times. The list includes 37 league titles and 16 state championships with 13 runners up.
560 of his athletes made all-conference; 232 made all-state, and 55 made all-New England. Sixteen of his athletes made All-American. Twenty-eight set state records. Seven set New England records. Twenty-five were recognized as scholar athletes. Those twenty-five mean as much to Tom as anything because he recognizes and understands the partnership between athletics and academics.
The Connecticut High School Coaches Association named Tom Coach of the Year twice, once in indoor track and once in outdoor track, and of course he has been in the CHSCA Hall of Fame since 1998 because the coaches who were already there wanted him in their company to enhance the club.
And Tom's light is not limited to Connecticut; it has been seen and recognized nationally: District One named him Coach of the Year twice...1991 and 2002, and the National High School Coaches Association recently named him Coach of the Year in outdoor track.
So, Tom Butterfield remains one of Connecticut's great coaches, and no one would believe luck had anything to do with it.
Coach Tom Butterfield at a recent practice with members of the 2011 William Hall Boys XC Team.
(Photos by Ron Knapp (c) 2011 MySportsResults.com)