Harris leaving winning legacy at Brunswick School

Brunswick School athletic director Jeff Harris will be stepping down after four years on the job. Overall, Harris has spent 32 years at the school. — Minush Krasniqi photo

Brunswick School athletic director Jeff Harris will be stepping down after four years on the job. Overall, Harris has spent 32 years at the school. — Minush Krasniqi photo

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part series on the Brunswick School athletic director position. Check back here next Thursday to read about the school’s incoming athletic director.

For over three decades, every time Jeff Harris stepped onto the campus at Brunswick School, he knew he was a part of a family.

Whether he was instructing his team as head lacrosse coach, in front of the white board as a history teacher in the Upper School or behind the desk as athletic director, the one thing that has remained the same since coming to Brunswick School in 1982 has been the inviting family atmosphere.

Come June, Harris will be saying farewell to the school that he takes deep pride in, as the athletic director recently announced his retirement.

“Being an athletic director is a neat way to cap off my career here at Brunswick,” Harris said. “I wore a lot of different hats. I’ve been a coach and I’ve been an advisor. I was a member of the admissions office for so long as director of admissions. Having the chance to do this for the last four years has been a neat way to pull it all together.”

Harris and his wife Leslie, who also works at Brunswick, will leave the school in June and head down to a very familiar area, Charlottesville, Virginia, where Jeff and his wife first met at the University of Virginia.

“We have friends in the area and my wife has family in the area,” Jeff Harris said. “We will certainly get back up to Greenwich a lot to see friends and get back to Brunswick. If they need somebody to hold the chains, I’ll be more than happy to do that.”

Taking Harris’ place as athletic director will be a familiar face to the Brunswick School family. Ron VanBelle will be taking over as new athletic director and he’s certainly no stranger to the athletic program. He has been a member of the Brunswick School faculty since 2005 and has been the head coach of the highly-successful ice hockey team for the past seven years.

Harris believes that VanBelle is the perfect choice for athletic director at Brunswick.

“Ron knows the school really well,” Harris said. “He’s been here a year short of a decade here and knows what it takes to be a highly-successful varsity coach. He’s worked with other coaches and has a son that’s a great hockey player. Ron has a good finger on the pulse of the Brunswick community. Because he’s an upper school math teacher, as well as a coach, I think that helps him know that the boys and other coaches are really busy.”

In next week’s Greenwich Post there will be a feature on VanBelle, talking about his new role as athletic director and where he sees the athletic program at Brunswick.

When it comes to the sports offered at Brunswick, Harris couldn’t be more proud of his success during the past four years. The ice hockey team has been a perennial powerhouse in New England and plays the best competition around. Scouts are always at the Hartong Rink. The lacrosse and squash teams have consistently been one of the best programs in New England, as well as the legendary wrestling program, which has countless state and New England championships under its belt.

The baseball program recently grabbed the FAA championship and the football program, a year after winning one game, finished its season with a record of 9-2 and played in the Jack Etter Bowl.

“All the programs are successful because we still have a group of kids who are motivated and work hard,” Harris said. “Also you can’t forget about the consistency of the coaches, both in terms of their experience and they are teacher coaches. They understand the sport they coach but also how their sport relates to what we are looking to do at Brunswick in terms of educating the whole boy.

“For the student-athletes to see the similarities in terms of how coaches approach their sports and what life lessons they are willing to teach the boys that is beyond a particular skill in sports, allows us to be successful,” added Harris. “The varsity coaches have done a great job being the mentor of their programs.”

While a lot has remained the same under Harris’ tenure as athletic director at Brunswick, there’s also a lot that has changed. During Harris’ stay at Brunswick, they opened the King Street campus, completely renovated the Maher Ave. campus and currently there is construction next to the soccer and lacrosse fields for a beautiful new swimming complex to house the swimming and water polo teams.

“The continued expansion of our offerings here has been great,” Harris said. “We added teams like the swimming team and to see our water polo team go from a glorified club team a few years ago to a New England finalist has been exciting.”

The Bruins have been a plethora of success during Harris’ tenure as athletic director. While winning never gets old, Harris still has seen some ups and downs with the athletic teams. However, one thing that remains the same has been the mental approach both athletes and coaches take to the field, rink, gym, courts or track.

“I enjoyed the fact that the boys competed at such a high level of sportsmanship,” Harris said. “You know you are playing a Brunswick team. We may not win all the time, but they are going to try their hardest and more times than not you’re going to be really proud of their effort and attitude as they do it.”

In late May, after all the students leave for the summer, the fall schedules are all but finalized and the mountain of paperwork has been put in place, Harris will look back at his tenure as athletic director with great pride, knowing he helped make lives better nearly every day that he stepped on to the campus.

“It’s going to be bitter-sweet for us,” Harris said. “Obviously Leslie and I are excited about our next chapter of our lives, but you can’t be in a place like this, for as long as we both have, without having such a strong emotional attachment. There will be a few tears when it’s all said and done, but it helps a lot knowing the school is still strong, there were a lot of positive changes.

“In some ways we are really different from where we were in the 1980’s,” added Harris. “But in other ways, we are still very recognizable to a graduate from the 80’s. The feel of the community, the relationship between teachers and students. There are more students, more teams and a new school on King Street, but it’s still Brunswick.”

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