By BOB YORK
You can rest assured the 2017 Martin William Souders Memorial Award that the New England Prep School Athletic Council presented to Jeremy Foley during its Annual Meeting on Friday at the DCU Center in Worcester will be in good company no matter where Foley finds a home for it.
The former University of Florida athletic director could slip this latest award between a couple of his other favorites. There’s the Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal National Athletic Director of the Year Award he earned in 2006 and the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame’s John L. Toner Award. The Toner Award was presented to Foley in 2007 in acknowledgement of his being named the foundation’s Athletic Director of the Year for demonstrating administrative abilities, especially in the area of college football.
The Carl Maddox Sport Management Award, which came Foley’s way in 2009 via the United States Sports Academy in recognition of his contributions to the growth and development of sport enterprise through effective management practices is also front and center, as is another presentation that brings back a few memories for Foley. That would be the Distinguished Alumni Award he received from Holderness School in 2007, and from where he graduated in 1970.
As for the Souders Award, it was established in 1967 in memory of the former director of physical education at Milton Academy (1919-1929) and Philips Exeter Academy (1930-1962), as well as NEPSAC’s first president. It bears Souders’ name in recognition of his leadership, vision, dedication and the constant and valuable contributions he made to the cause and stature of physical education and athletics among New England independent schools. The award is annually presented to a New England independent school graduate who has made a distinguished record in life through his/her high ideals, leadership and accomplishments.
The council also handed out its Distinguished Service Award, with the 2017 edition being presented to long-time Loomis Chaffee School Athletic Director Bob Southall. This award is annually presented to the individual who has contributed significantly to New England independent school athletics and physical education through enthusiasm, dedication, leadership and vision.
“I was both honored and humbled,” said Foley, of his notification by NEPSAC that he would be the recipient of this year’s Souders Award. “It’s nice to know that someone up there still remembers me.”
Truth be known, if Foley had had his way when he was a 14-year-old sophomore at Holderness, no one would have remembered him at all. That’s because he wouldn’t have been there long.
“It was my first time I’d ever been away from home,” admitted Foley, who grew up in New London, N.H. “I was really homesick and I didn’t want to be at Holderness. In fact, it was about the last place I wanted to be at that time."
“My mother would have no part of me coming home, however,” added Foley, who, nearly a half-century later, considers his mother’s refusal to rescue him “as one of the best things that never happened to me. Thanks to her refusing to give in to my homesickness, I had to stick it out at Holderness. It took me about a month to settle in, but I made it through that unsettling time and looking back, I feel very fortunate that I stayed there."
“I owe Holderness a great deal,” continued Foley, “I got a great education there and without the solid foundation I received from its teachers and coaches, I doubt I ever would have gone on to Hobart College (BA in Psychology) and then to Ohio University (Masters of Education in Sports Administration).”
As for Foley’s athletic endeavors at Holderness, he was a three-sport starter. He was a wide receiver in football, a guard in basketball and a catcher in baseball. “I was just an average player … nothing special, though” he explained. He was still a good enough athlete, however, to go on to play both football and lacrosse at Hobart.
During Foley’s 28 years heading up the University of Florida’s sports programs, he became as well known as an athletic director as some of the renowned coaches he hired, such as Urban Meyer (football) and Billy Donovan (men’s basketball). In fact, with Foley occupying the school’s Oval Office, the Gators became the first school in collegiate history to win both the football and men’s basketball national championships during the same calendar (2006) year. The men’s basketball team then became the first repeat champion in that sport in 15 years by winning the 2007 crown as well.
Foley, who handled virtually every aspect of the school’s $119.3 million athletic program during his administrative career, is the only Division I AD to have overseen a program that won multiple national championships in football (1996, 2006, 2008) and men’s basketball (2006, 2007). Overall, 27 Gator teams were crowned as national champions under his guidance. Closer to home, Florida won 130 Southeastern Conference championships under Foley and swept the SEC All-Sports Title 15 times during Foley’s stay, a feat no other conference school has ever accomplished.
One could not only draw a great deal of inspiration from what Foley accomplished at Florida, but how he accomplished it – one step at a time. He reached the penthouse of the multi-million dollar Gator sports franchise by taking the stairs, rather than the elevator.
In 1976 Foley began as an intern at Florida. The following year, he was named ticket manager. In 1979, he became director of ticket and game operations. Foley moved up to assistant athletic director in 1980, then associate athletic director for business affairs the next year. He was bestowed the title of interim athletic director in 1986, senior associate athletic director in 1987, and finally, was named the head honcho in 1992.
Under Foley’s watch, Florida made a commitment to its athletes in the classroom as well as on the field, as a total of 107 student-athletes at the school were honored as Academic All-Americans while 1,666 athletes earned SEC Academic Honor Roll status during the final decade of his term.
“Jeremy’s a fantastic guy to learn from,” said Rick Eccleston, the Holderness athletic director “Any chance I have, I love to pick his brain about athletics and I’ve learned a great deal from him and from his viewpoint on athletics. It’s been particularly helpful of late as Holderness is talking about what athletics might look like in 10 or 15 years from now and how we should best move ahead in that process at Holderness."
“When talking with Jeremy, you can easily see why he’s been so successful as an athletic director,” added Eccleston. “It’s his philosophy that every sport in your program needs to feel important and every player on every team in your program needs to feel important as well."
“As for coaches,” continued Eccleston, “Jeremy looks upon them as the biggest representatives of your teams and the ideal spokespersons for your program’s athletic culture and therefor, he feels it’s imperative that schools invest in their coaches. He felt it was imperative to always support your teachers in the classroom and likewise, support your coaches on the athletic field.”
As Southall’s bio succinctly states: “He was the face of Loomis Chaffee athletics for 34 years.” The Buffalo, N.Y., native arrived on campus in 1972 and spent his first decade there as director of intermural athletics. He then took over as the Pelicans’ athletic director, a position he filled until 2004, when, after 22 years on the job, he took a year’s sabbatical before returning to assist the school’s athletic office before retiring in 2006.
“I was surprised when I originally received the call that I was to receive this award,” said Southall, who oversaw an athletic program at Loomis that would triple – from 20 varsity and JV level teams to 62 – when the school ushered in coeducation under his watch. “It’s a tremendous honor to be named a recipient and an extremely humbling one as well to be listed among the group of people who have won this award previously.”
Southall graduated from the State university of New York at Buffalo, where he majored in psychology and later received his master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from Springfield College.
“I don’t think anyone who has been associated with Loomis Chaffee will ever forget what Bob Southall has meant to the school’s athletics program,” said Bob Howe, who succeeded Southall as Loomis’ AD for 12 years before taking over the same job at Deerfield Academy two years ago.
"Bob came to Loomis at a time when it was becoming a co-ed school and he not only played an important role in building girl athletics at Loomis, but helped turn it into one of the premier prep school girls sports programs throughout New England … and it remains among the elite today."
For Howe, having the opportunity to work with Southall at Loomis the year before he announced his retirement, completed a circle of life, in a way.
“I grew up on the Loomis campus as a faculty kid,” explained Howe, “and got to know Bob quite well over the years. Then, many years later, when I returned to the school as its athletic director, I had the opportunity to work very closely with him just before he retired. It was a tremendous experience. I learned a great deal from him during that year we worked together and it’s a time I will always cherish.”
As an AD, Southall ‘s primary job was to oversee the Pelicans’ athletic programs, but he got involved in them as well. During his tenure at Loomis, he spent a good part of his time coaching as well. He tutored the varsity golf team for 31 years (1975-2006) during the spring, while his winters were spent concentrating on boys’ basketball. He coached the JV team for seven years (1975-1982) then moved up and took over the varsity job from for 20 years (1982-2002).
Southall stepped away from coaching during his last four years at Loomis to wear yet another hat – a hard hat.
“They asked me to help design and supervise construction of a $30 million dollar renovation and addition to the Loomis Chaffee athletic facilities,” said Southall. “The construction included a double-gym complex, weight training and fitness center, athletic training room and an eight-lane all-weather track as well as significant renovations to the hockey rink."
One of the highlights of Southall’s career came in 1984, when he helped create the Founders League, which, in addition to Loomis Chaffee, consists of Avon Old Farms, Choate, Ethel Walker School, Hotchkiss, Kent, Kingswood Oxford, Miss Porter’s, Taft, Trinity Pawling and Westminster.
He was also a co-founder of the Western New England Basketball Coaches Association, co-founder and officer of the New England Basketball Coaches Association, District IV officer (1992-2000) and NEPSAC officer (1999-2003).
The NEPSAC SPECIAL NEWS is sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises. Scoreboard Enterprises is a Sports Technology Company and exclusive Daktronics dealer in the New England area. We provide, install and service scoreboards, video displays and audio systems designed specifically for athletic facilities. Contact us for more information at www.scoreboardenterprises.