VanBelle eager for new gig as Brunswick athletic director

Brunswick School ice hockey head coach Ron VanBelle chats with his team in between periods during a recent game at the Hartong Rink.  — Minush Krasniqi photo

Brunswick School ice hockey head coach Ron VanBelle chats with his team in between periods during a recent game at the Hartong Rink. — Minush Krasniqi photo

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the Brunswick School athletic director position that will be going through a transition. To read more about current athletic director Jeff Harris, who announced his retirement in June, check out last week’s Greenwich Post or read the story online at 

Ron VanBelle has been making a habit out of bringing out the best in the young men at Brunswick School, whether it is behind the bench as head coach of the prestigious ice hockey team or teaching the upper school students the importance of mathematics.

However starting in June, the Stamford resident gets the opportunity to help the entire Bruins’ sports community continue the tradition of high-quality athletics, as VanBelle will become the school’s new athletic director.

“When the change came knocking, I realized the timing is really good,” VanBelle said. “I am inheriting a very healthy sports program that has excellent coaches already in place. The programs are in great shape. I am excited to get this going and to be a small part of the great tradition here at Brunswick.”

For VanBelle, the thought of becoming Brunswick School’s athletic director didn’t enter his mind right away. As head coach for the highly-competitive and incredibly respected Brunswick ice hockey team, as well as an upper school math teacher, VanBelle already has a busy schedule.

In addition to getting the lesson plans ready for help the youth of Brunswick achieve high honors in mathematics, VanBelle is also under constant pressure to compete against elite private school hockey programs throughout the region that house post-graduates and have athletes consistently scouted by top college and professional level teams.

Throw into the mix that the Stamford resident has two children in Brunswick, Nicholas and Thomas, and VanBelle has a full plate.

“When the position became open and Jeff (Harris) announced his retirement, I was kind of comfortable being a math teacher and hockey coach,” VanBelle said. “The demands of the athletic director are significant in a place like Brunswick. It’s a big role. We joke around about how sports aren’t a big deal and no one pays attention to sports. But at the end of the day, your job as athletic director is in the paper every single day. Even people that aren’t affiliated with Brunswick sports know about Brunswick sports.”

As the search for athletic director pushed on, Brunswick School headmaster Thomas Philip started approaching people that he thought would be a perfect fit. And VanBelle happened to be one of those people.
When first approached about the position, VanBelle admitted he was hesitant, but also respectful on how big the role would be. However, the more VanBelle thought about the job, he was able to wrap his head around how great of an opportunity the position is.

“The entire Brunswick community is very excited about Ron VanBelle’s appointment as the school’s next Athletic Director,” Philip said. “A superb athlete in his own right, a remarkable teacher, advisor and coach, Ron is a wonderful role model to our boys and has a perfect perspective on the appropriate role of athletics in the lives of our students.”

Although VanBelle is thrilled about the chance to help the Bruins grow as a sports powerhouse recognized throughout the area, he did have concerns about the growth of his baby, the Brunswick hockey program.

As head coach of a team that is constantly playing top teams from around the East Coast, VanBelle knows the nearly yearlong commitment needed to maintain the success of Brunswick hockey.

“One of my initial hesitations was the question if I could handle being the athletic director of a school this size and coach the hockey program,” VanBelle said. “The answer is that it’s to be determined. Right now is to try and do both. With the coaches that we have in place in all our team, I am highly confident that we will be fine.”

VanBelle said that what will make his job as athletic director much easier is that the head varsity coaches in all sports are basically in charge of their entire program at all levels.

“When you have guys in place that are already managing a big chunk of our sports, it’s less intense at times,” VanBelle said. “When I look at my hockey program, coach (Michael) Kennedy and coach (Steve) Mandes are my assistants and have been with me for so long that if I have to miss a hockey commitment due to my AD role, I have excellent people in place. Because of the people that I coach with, I think the hockey program won’t miss a beat.”

One of the advantages VanBelle has with the athletic director’s position will be that he gets an entire spring season to watch what outgoing athletic director Jeff Harris does on a daily basis.

“I get to see him manage the spring sports season and I get to watch him schedule next fall’s season,” VanBelle said. “From the 10,000-foot level, I know what the job entails, but I am still very unsure what the day-to-day stuff is about. Having Jeff around for the next four months is going to be great. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with Jeff, that’s for sure. Jeff was given a great program when Tim Ostrye stepped down and now I am trying to carry on where Tim and Jeff left off.”

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