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By BOB YORK
For more than a half a century now, the New England Prep School Athletic Council has been presenting its prestigious Martin William Sounders Memorial Award to men and women whom the council deemed to have portrayed the same characteristics of leadership, vision, high ideals and accomplishments that Sounders, its first president (1942-1944), exhibited as a private school educator.
Some recipients of this award, which was named in memory of a man who served as director of physical education at Milton Academy (1919-1929) and Phillips Exeter Academy (1930-1962), need no introduction, Those would include the likes of George H.W. Bush (Andover, 1942), Mike Eruzione (Berwick Academy, 1973) and Bill Belichick (Andover, 1971). Others, such as this year’s winner, Mark Milley, may need a little primer.
First and foremost, Milley, a 1976 graduate of Belmont Hill School, has checked off all the criteria needed to be a champion of this accolade With a title of U.S. Army General and the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this year’s Sounders Award is now in the possession of the highest ranking military officer in the country.
In soldier speak, being Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff means Milley serves as the principal military advisor to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council and the Secretary of Defense.
NEPSAC also presented its Distinguished Service Award during its Annual Meeting on Nov. 14 at the DCU Center in Worcester and this year’s recipient was Ned Gallagher, a long-time athletic director at Choate-Rosemary Hall School and a past president of NEPSAC. This award is annually presented to an individual who has contributed significantly to both the athletics and physical education of New England’s independent schools through his/her enthusiasm, dedication, leadership and vision.
The Belmont Hill community must have had a premonition that Milley had all the right stuff to reach the pinnacle of the U.S. military world back in 2015 when it presented the Winchester, Mass., native with the highest honor it gives to a graduate: its Distinguished Alumni Award. This award recognizes men who have exemplified in life those qualities that the school seeks to instill in its students: honesty, excellence, integrity, respect and caring for others.
During his visit to the Belmont, Mass., campus to accept that award, Milley spoke to the students and told them, “At the end of the day, in the dark of the night, when no one is around you and things aren’t going well, it is your character that holds you together … Reflect on how privileged we are as Americans to have the freedoms we have and never forget how we got them, who paid for them and how they were bought.”
“One can’t help but feel inspired after spending time with General Milley,” Greg Schneider, the Head of School, was quoted as saying following the ceremonies. “I say that as a grateful American, but also as a leader of Belmont Hill. General Milley’s example of integrity and leadership continually reminds me that our mission of developing young men of character is more relevant than ever.”
During his four years at Belmont Hill, Milley proved to be an outstanding student/athlete – and leader. As a student, his grades were good enough to eventually earn him an Ivy League degree in political science from Princeton University. He also served as vice president of the student council and editor of the school newspaper. As for his athletic prowess, he played football, where, as a senior, he captained the team as a running back and linebacker, while he also competed in hockey and crew.
“Sports teaches so many things: teamwork, resilience, the ability to handle temporary setbacks … how to get knocked down and how to get back on your feet,” said Milley reminiscing of lessons learned from the athletic arenas of Belmont Hill and Princeton. “There’s all sorts of things we can learn from team sports, and not just from the sports I played, but from any team sport.”
“The country’s in good hands with General Mark Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” said Ken Martin, who was Milley’s hockey coach at Belmont Hill. “He was always devoted and dedicated to whatever he was involved in and I’m very proud of him.”
Martin remembers Milley particularly well because they both first stepped foot on the Belmont Hill campus in 1972, Martin as a rookie teacher/coach, Milley as a freshman. In fact, the two got to know each other quite well right off the bat, as Martin was assigned to help coach the freshman football team that fall, where Milley played on the offensive and defensive lines. Martin got to know his charge much better that winter, however, when Milley began a four-year run as a defenseman on the varsity hockey team.
“As a player, Mark was reliable, steady, hard working and very coachable,” said Martin of Milley, who would go on to compete for four years in varsity hockey and varsity crew at Princeton. “At that time I don’t think we had an MVP award but if we had, he would certainly have been the player I would have recommended for it.
“Mark still loves hockey,” added Martin, who keeps in touch with Milley. In fact Milley has invited his former mentor to his residence at Joint Base Meyer-Henderson Hall, which is located next to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., to partake in a couple of celebratory cookouts.
“He had a cookout the day before he was sworn in as Army Chief of Staff in August, 2015, and another this past August, the day before he sworn in as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “added Martin. “His only request for those attending was to show up in a hockey Jersey.” That requirement included the host as well, as Milley flipped burgers at both cookouts decked out in his Princeton jersey.
Milley, who graduated from Princeton in 1980 with a degree in political science and a commission as an Armor officer through the school’s Reserve Officer’ Training Corps program, comes from a military background. His father, Alex, was a Navy Corpsman assigned to the 4th Marine Division and participated in the island assaults on Kwajalean Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as well as the battles for Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas.
The elder Milley was spared the bloody battle of Iwo Jima, however, when the Japanese surrendered and World War II came to an end. He was later awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with three Bronze Stars along with Presidential Unit Citation. His mother, Mary, meanwhile, served as a military nurse during the war and it was his family’s service to its country that played a major role in Milley following in their footsteps.
“What attracted me to a career in the military, fundamentally, was my parents, my uncles, my aunts, all of whom were World War II veterans,” explained Milley. “In the neighborhood where we grew up, practically all of the adults served in one way or another in World War II.
“That’s the environment where I developed a desire to serve my country, as most of the kids in our neighborhood went into the military as well,” added Milley. “At Belmont Hill, most of the teachers … most of the faculty … were also veterans of World War II or Korea or Vietnam, so there was a very, very strong sense of service at the school, as well.”
Milley’s father graduated from Somerville (Mass.) High School just prior to his enlistment in the Navy in 1943 and then in 2014, as part of a deferred graduation honoring several World War II veterans, he received a diploma from Tilton School.
During Miley’s nearly four decades in the military, he has served with the 82nd Airborne Division, the 5th Special Forces Group, the 7th Infantry, the 2nd Infantry Division and the 25th Infantry Division. Among the awards he has received include two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, four Army Distinguished Service Medals, three Legion of Merit Awards and four Bronze Stars.
According to Milley, much of the groundwork that has ultimately led him to become the highest-ranking member of today’s U.S. Military was formed while competing for Belmont Hill athletics.
“By playing sports … not just by being a team captain … you’re developing teamwork and leadership skills,” said Milley. “You’re developing an ability to work as a group to overcome common problems and how to approach things that we see on a day-to-day basis. These skills are applicable in the military as well as on any playing field during a high school or college sport.
“It’s the ability to work well together with teammates to achieve a common goal and to be part of something bigger than yourself,” added Milley. “There’s no “I” in team, so to speak. So if you’re on a football team, a basketball team, a baseball team or whatever kind of team you’re on, you’ve got to do what’s best for the team and not just for yourself. I think that carries forward into a life in the military.
“There’s no doubt that young people are in their formative years while attending both middle and high school,” continued a reflective Milley. “We are formed by our parents and family first, and secondly, by the teachers and coaches that we experience during this time. This is true of me … the teachers, faculty and coaches at Belmont Hill had a tremendous influence on me.
“Specifically,” added Milley, “the school emphasizes the art of critical thinking and how to be intellectually aware of everything you see, everything you hear, everything you read, and to ask lots of questions. I’ve carried this mindset with me throughout my life.”
This year’s Distinguished Service Award, which annually goes to someone who has contributed significantly to the athletics and physical education of New England prep schools via enthusiasm, dedication, leadership and vision, brought Ned Gallagher to the podium. For all the hats Gallagher has worn since joining the Choate faculty/staff in 1987, however, the council could well have handed him a separate award for all he has done for the school away from the athletic arena.
“It’s very nice to receive the Distinguished Service Award from my peers at NEPSAC … I’m deeply grateful to them,” said Gallagher, who served as Choate’s AD for 21 years (1996-2017) “I’ve climbed the NEPSAC ladder like everyone else in the council has and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute working with so many dedicated people in trying to make life more rewarding and less complicated for our student athletes.”
Gallagher likened his position as a private school athletic director to that of a Secretary of State, ”because as an AD, you’re one of the few … if not the only member of an independent school’s faculty or staff … who maintains close contact with other schools and thus is aware of what’s going on around you, not only athletically but on other school issues as well.”
Looking back on his presidency, which he quipped “was probably the longest in council history because Joe Gill (the AD at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School) left with a little more than a year remaining on his term (2000-2002), so my term (2002-2004) ended up being a little over three years in length.”
According to Gallagher, among the most challenging issues he and the council worked on under his leadership, and the one he was proudest of helping to solve, was that of school classifications – particularly in hockey and basketball. At the time, a number of smaller enrollment schools were raising their recruiting efforts in these two sports. The result was that they became very competitive, much more so than their peers of the same size and thus began making it all but impossible for other schools with similar enrollments to compete for championships.
“So,” explained Gallagher, “we devised what we called an Open Division for teams such as these. Under this new format, these smaller enrollment schools that wanted to compete on a higher level, could. With these Open Divisions, they could compete against schools with larger enrollments, while the small schools could feel as though they now had a realistic opportunity to earn a tournament berth and even win a championship.”
During his two decades as Choate’s AD, Gallagher headed up an athletic program that listed more than 80 interscholastic teams as well as an extensive array of intramural and instructional programs. He also oversaw the modernization of its athletic and fitness facilities and introduced the school to the emerging world of technology throughout the athletic program.
Gallagher’s duties weren’t confined to the Oval Office of Choate athletics, however. He was also a three-season coach: boys varsity cross country, boys varsity tennis and boys squash and has the rare distinction of winning New England championships in all three, and that’s not all. Gallagher also served for decades as executive director of the New England Interscholastic Squash Association as well as the New England Interscholastic Tennis Association.
It’s doubtful there is anyone associated with NEPSAC who has more of an appreciation for what Gallagher has accomplished at NEPSAC and at Choate than long-time friend and adversary, Bob Howe. The outgoing NEPSAC president has come to know his former Choate counterpart quite well while serving as AD at Loomis Chaffee and Deerfield Academy over the past 15 years.
“It’s well deserving,” said Howe of his friend’s award. “I remember when I first started as AD at Loomis, I would always look to Ned Gallagher whenever I had a question and needed to find the answer and I think any young AD hoping to make his or her mark in this field would do well to pattern themselves after someone like Ned.
“Another factor that makes Ned such a deserving winner of this award is his ability to be more than just an AD,” added Howe. “In addition to his duties as an athletic director, he’s also been a three-sport coach in cross country, squash and tennis, plus he has served as executive director of both the New England Interscholastic Squash and Tennis Associations. He’s done a great deal for New England prep school sports.”
Away from the athletic scene, Gallagher, who was the recipient of the Hubert S. Packard Chair for Distinguished Teaching in 2009, has been a key component in the school’s classrooms as well. Throughout the years, he has been involved in the school’s History, English and Government departments, and serves as director of Choate’s John F. Kennedy ’35 Institute in Government, a public policy summer program that is conducted at the school and in Washington, D.C.
For Gallagher, however, this evidently wasn’t enough of a workload. So, to keep himself even busier, he has served as a resident house adviser at Choate. Plus, there are a few extracurricular activities he enjoys participating in at the school, which include coaching the debate team, advising various student clubs and publications and hosting his own show on the school’s radio station.
Gallagher was on hand to receive his award on Nov. 14, Milley, however, was not. He was busy back in Washington – watching our backs.
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