Close your eyes and try to imagine Ledyard High School in the fall without Coach Bruce Douglass working with his girls cross country team after school. Can't do it? Well, neither can hundreds of young women who are lucky enough to have been on the cross country and track & field teams he coached there over the years....forty of them, to be exact.
As a new Chemistry teacher back in the early 70's, Coach Douglass had already earned the respect of his students as a teacher, but when they learned he also had a little coaching experience, a few girls approached him about starting a running program at Ledyard because back then there were no sports for girls. Good thing they did, because the time was overdue for their participation, and they had the right man for the job.
So in the spring of 1973 he and some interested girls started a track and field team, but it was eliminated after its first season. Big mistake. There was enthusiasm for girls track; it tapped a well of competition, team spirit, goal-setting, and hard work, not to mention equality with the guys. Many of the girls who ran that spring for Coach Douglass were top students at Ledyard, and were determined and articulate young women who knew they should not be denied. Several girls went to Ledyard's Board of Education to plead their case for continuing girls track. Clearly, they were in the right, but they were helped out when a Board member asked them why they would want to earn a varsity letter when they could just as easily wear their boyfriends' letter sweaters. Wow.
It's hard to deny pioneers and visionaries.
Maybe he should coach Board of Ed members in the art of modern, reasonable thinking.
Envision these impressive numbers for his girls' track & field teams: 5 Class M Championships, 3 Class M Runner-ups, 1 State Open Runner-up, 12 ECC Championships, and 7 ECC Runner-ups. Envision all those girls proudly wearing their own varsity letters.
Coach Douglass coached girls track & field from that spring until 1994, when he got married, and knew something had to go, so someone else took over the girls track team at Ledyard. But given the inevitability of girls’ sports, he and some of the same athletes from the spring of '73 track team started girls XC at Ledyard in the fall of 1973, and carried on with considerable success over the years.
Coach Douglass's version of considerable success: 311 victories that translate into a 68% winning percentage, 5 State Runner-ups, 1 State Open runner-up, and 12 ECC Championships.
He admits he was not much of distance runner in high school back in Scarborough, Maine, but was a high and low hurdler and a long and triple jumper on the track team there. Then, at the University of Maine, he walked on the XC and track teams, and in his words, "...became a gym rat. Mediocre high school athletes usually don't go too far in college sports." However, his determination and drive took over, and he divided his time between the classroom and the gym, with the gym winning the split. He "manipulated" his schedule so he could work out as many as three times a day...often doing others' workouts as well as his own...clearly impressing his coaches. The pleasant result was a utility man whose main event was the 400 hurdles, but who could contribute points in many events...wherever the team needed him. Ed Styrna and Jim Ballinger were his coaches at UMaine, and they recognized his focus and persistence, and appreciated his presence on their teams. To this day he remembers them and is grateful for their acceptance of him, just as Coach Douglass's athletes will always remember him.
He claims his coaching philosophy is "pretty simple," but only the best can create an environment in which each athlete knows Coach means it. Douglass has been meaning it for over 40 years. As he says, "Every athlete is important, not just those with talent." One way he delivers this attitude to his athletes is by stressing personal improvement. In the sports he coached, virtually all athletes compete, and they all get an equal chance to improve their respective performances and approach their potentials. Sounds easy, but behind it are healthy working relationships between coach and athletes, and what results is a life lesson, and kids remember where they learned it and from whom they learned it.
They learned it from Coach Bruce Douglass...CHSCA National Coach of the Year in 1993!
Yes it sounds easy, but Coach Douglass recognizes that good training, like good teaching, is both science and art..."the challenge is to design workouts so that each individual gets what she needs without having kids go in a dozen different directions." Further, he knows "...I better be able to explain what I have them do. It helps the girls become self-sufficient." Another life lesson. In working with his athletes, he also teaches the distinction between running and racing, which is easy to say, but presents perhaps the biggest challenge for him as coach. But he recognizes his good fortune to have worked with outstanding and hard-working athletes who, he says, made him look good...so good in fact that his list of awards and recognitions is so long you’d have to see it to believe it.
Not one to let himself become complacent in his coaching, he remembers the wisdom passed on to him years ago: "It's not enough that you come to these [training] camps and learn how the best athletes in the world train; it's how you adapt what you learn for your athletes." Quite right...how does one take what one knows and teach others so they will benefit, so they can teach others. Think he doesn't use some of that wisdom in his Chemistry classes?
Because of this successful philosophy, many of Coach Douglass's athletes stay in touch with him, often these days via Facebook. He can keep track of what they have done with their lives and careers, and justifiably he is proud of their successes, which to some degree at least, is due to his efforts and philosophy put into action. So his influence continues...all the way to the national level of volunteering and recognition. He enjoys the work at that level, and you know national-level administrators love his experience, talent, and wisdom, and seek his council. He has won many awards, but some of the best awards are the adults who used to run their hearts out for him when they were impressionable high school kids.
We don't have to close our eyes to understand why he has been so successful...any time of the year.
Coach Bruce Douglass and the Ledyard Girl's XC Team review the course map and race strategy prior to the 2011 CIAC Class M Championship at Wickham Park.
(Photographs (c) 2011 - Ron Knapp, MySportsResults.com)