Teamwork can happen on more than one level, and Coach Becky Howard has been making it happen for a long time now. Some time we can't see it coming, but when the opportunity presents itself, the smart ones jump at the chance to make the most of it. Such was the case when Coach Howard was student teaching at Windham High School in the spring of 1980, and showing early ambition and a willing attitude, she volunteered to help out with the boys and girls track teams three days a week. The coach at the time was legendary Windham coach Bob Haddad. When the two of them began working together it was like Lennon meeting McCartney...who, back then, could have predicted the impressive things these two would accomplish together?
Coach Howard's experience with track & field actually began when she was a senior at Roger-Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, now known as Ludlowe Fairfield. Back then her best friend was captain of the T&F team, and knew what a good athlete Coach Howard was, and encouraged her to join up. It turned out to be a big decision, as we all know. Up to that point, Coach Howard had always liked sports, her current favorites are skiing...water and snow...and surfing, but because of having to move "around the continent" so much and attend several schools, participation in organized team sports was problematic.
But, knowing this was her senior year in high school; Coach Howard joined the track team and still has several medals from the CIAC State Meet to show for her achievements. She was a sprinter then, running dashes and relays. So, after one successful season of track, UConn beckoned, and off she went. While maintaining good grades, she became active in intramurals, got noticed by the women's track team, and was recruited. Athletic talent is hard to hide at UConn. Good thing.
Coach Howard joined the indoor and outdoor track programs during her freshman year, and during her sophomore year they gained varsity status when Title IX became the law of the land. So it was another good thing that Coach Howard and Title IX came to Storrs at about the same time. And as the stars aligned, also arriving in Storrs at about the same time, serving as a grad assistant coach, was the founder and owner of MySportsResults.com, Ron Knapp. How's that for Karma?
So she continued to improve her sprinting skills there in a variety of events. Although in Coach Howard's time at UConn, there was not enough money for women's scholarships; the women there worked with a sense of pride and purpose, and Coach Howard was no exception. For example, she still shares UConn's fourth-best time in the 60-yard dash, and because the event is no longer competed, her name shall remain in the record books for...ever.
Well, scholarship or not, Coach Howard was chosen to serve as Captain of the Women's T&F teams during her junior and senior years. And unbelievable as it may seem today, she was one of the drivers in a 5-van caravan to UConn's away meets! Get over it; what it means is that she is the type of person who does whatever it takes to help the team, and her driving a van to help get her team to away meets is "whatever it takes" translated into real-life situations. So what has changed over the years in her teaching and coaching? Right...not much.
What that means results in a very nurturing environment for her athletes, and it starts with communication between coach and athletes, and her Assistant Coach since 2008, Randall Prose, agrees. As a team they have long since realized that coaches can't just tell athletes to trust their coaches, the athletes must feel that trust in their collective insides. So the talk at Windham goes beyond "coachspeak" to include a quick mention of the athlete's day...like, "You making it to Algebra on time these days?" or "Your mom get over that cold she had last week"? They have known for a long time that a simple question goes a long way to letting an athlete feel like an individual, not just a number on a large track team. See? Teamwork between two coaches and their athletes.
One thing Coach Howard knows from experience is that "Sometimes the most talented kids are the hardest to reach," so the communication needs to be individualized, and that takes sensitivity, maturity, and a great sense of human nature to be successful. Count on it...the Windham High School T&F athletes get that from their coaches, led by Coach Howard.
And every athlete on Coach Howard's teams gets treated equally, regardless of talent, because in this nurturing environment, life lessons come first. As she says, hard work leads to improvement, and reaching athletes is one sure way to motivate them to work hard. Telling athletes that a coach cares is lame; making sure they know manners and etiquette, making sure they get to class on time, making sure they get home OK, making sure they have the proper training shoes, and making sure they appreciate what they have are ways to let kids know she cares. Her athletes leave her teams after a season and know they have been taught lessons not only in track & field, but in character as well, and that's why they remember her for years after they graduate.
And that, my friends, defines success.
Clearly her strengths are people skills, not so much in record-keeping. As she says, she has never kept a won-lost record on herself. Not her style. Not the point of all this. Not how you measure what's really important. However, if you were to look at Windham's achievements as a school, you would find that as Head Coach, her teams won three consecutive ECC Indoor Championships, and have been league runners up many times for boys and girls during cross country and indoor track, both in the Central Connecticut Conference, to which they once belonged, and her current league, the Eastern Connecticut Conference. Many of her athletes achieved All Conference and/or All State status, and some have gone on to earn Division I scholarships in college. Coach Howard has also had the honor of accompanying a handful of her athletes to the CASCIAC Scholar-Athlete recognition dinner. She has always believed if people surround themselves with high achieving people-good things happen-she also learn lessons from her student-athletes
Two important items that should not be ignored: her work with the Special Olympics and the honor it bestowed on her in 1995: CHSCA Outstanding Coach of the Year for Special Olympics. And, Coach Howard was Bob Haddad's Assistant Meet Director for the famous Windham Invitational Cross Country Meet... a rock solid hold on everybody's second Saturday in September for thirty years.
Bob Haddad remains a huge influence on Coach Howard's career, deservedly so, and she recognizes how lucky she is to have worked with him for three decades...as long as any two people have coached together in Connecticut for two consecutive seasons each year. Do the math. That's 60 seasons. They could finish each other's sentences and answer questions the way the other would have. Sometimes younger athletes would call her Mrs. Haddad, and Coach Howard would say the real Mrs. Haddad is much nicer! Not true.
No way has a coach worked for that long without many stories. She and I remember a four-team indoor meet at Manchester High School...upstairs around the big quad...nearly 400 meters per lap. So many heats were run that smoke from the starter's pistol set off the fire alarm, and the building had to be evacuated! We had to sit on our cold busses until the smoke cleared and the meet could be resumed.
So Coach Howard's career continues, and her teams continue their success as they all work together...for many years to come.
Coach Becky Howard found a few minutes at a recent developmental meet at Hillhouse HS in New Haven CT to continue to teach a few hurdle drills. (c) Ron Knapp, MySportsResults.com