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By BOB YORK
There are no elevators or escalators to whisk you away to the boardroom of the New England Prep School Athletic Council. Here, you get there the hard way by taking the stairs.
There are no short cuts to obtaining your seat and nameplate at the roundtable. Here, you earn them the tough way by persistently campaigning for what NEPSAC stands for: giving its student-athletes the opportunity to compete on a fair playing field.
Smoothing bumps and filling potholes along NEPSAC’s Yellow Brick Road to help guarantee impartial athletic arenas looms large on this committee’s bucket list, so with 12 years of troubleshooting on his resume and much wear and tear and asphalt on the soles of his shoes, George Tahan is now the Council’s clerk of the works. The 20-year veteran Belmont Hill School athletic director earned that distinction when he became Council president on Nov. 15.
“I’m both excited and thrilled for this opportunity,” said Tahan, who was sworn in as NEPSAC’s 46th president during its Annual Meeting. “There’s been some tremendous work done by this council throughout the years, particularly in its attempts to make life fairer and less complicated for our student-athletes, our athletic directors and our coaches. It’s now my hope to see that that trend continues.
“Getting to this point has been a long process and at times some persistence has been needed,” quipped Tahan of navigating the stepping stones the Council laid out for him – as it does for all of its aspiring members – to afford opportunities to gain experience, “but it was well worth it … there’s no better way of preparing for this job.”
Despite all that preparation, there was one facet of the job that Tahan quickly realized he had overlooked. It was his phone – and how busy it would get.
“It started ringing off the hook that very first day,” remembers Tahan. “They were people with questions … looking for answers. Some I had … some I didn’t.
“It got so busy in fact that I finally called (outgoing president) Bob Howe,” added Tahan. “I remember asking ‘geez, is it always like this?’ His response wasn’t overly reassuring, either … he just chuckled.”
Tahan – whose teammates on the Executive Board will be Vice President Martha Brousseau of Greenwich Academy, Secretary Ryan Frost of Cardigan Mountain School and Treasurer Jim Smucker of Berwick Academy – will now head the committee that oversees the athletic programs of 162 full-member independent schools and another 21 associate-member schools.
Tahan made his NEPSAC debut in 2007 the same way all board members do: as a District secretary. For Tahan, that meant the District III secretary’s job, which is home to Belmont Hill and with 77 member schools is the largest of NEPSAC’s four districts.
Following a two-year stint as district secretary, Tahan served two years each as the region’s vice president and president before accepting the Council’s nomination as Director of Championships.
“The Director of Championships oversees and deals with all issues pertaining to the staging and running of all NEPSAC tournaments and championships,” explained Tahan. “They work directly with, and support the coaches’ associations work in seeding, staging and siting of NEPSAC championships.
“They,” added Tahan, “along with the NEPSAC president and Coaches Association president, are the ultimate arbiters for any disputes associated with tournament eligibility, tournament management, as well as regular-season issues, including, but not limited to determinations concerning forfeits, non-contests and other schedule- and contest-related issues.”
In 2015, Tahan was named secretary of the executive board and in 2017 moved up to become Howe’s right-hand man as vice president.
“George and I have become very good friends while serving on the Council together,” said Howe, who is Deerfield Academy’s athletic director and, combined with a previous stretch at Loomis Chaffee School, has invested 16 years as an AD in Western New England. “I’ve come to know what a tremendous person he is and what kind of an outstanding leader he is and that makes stepping away as council president an easy move for me. George will make a great council president … he just gets it.
“George has a good head on his shoulders,” added Howe. “He’s very fair minded … he listens to what everyone has to say and then makes a decision that is always well thought out … he never rushes to conclusions.”
Mark Conroy, the athletic director at Williston Northampton School and a past president (2008-10) as well, echoed Howe’s sentiment when he said, “NEPSAC will be in great hands with George Tahan at the helm for the next two years. He has sat on the Executive Board for a number of years and has contributed to NEPSAC in numerous capacities.
“George has been both a District president and representative, a director of championships and Executive Board officer and a liaison to boys hockey,” added Conroy, who is the Council’s current director of classifications. “ He is the consummate professional whose dedication of the highest ideals of NEPSAC has been demonstrated many times over in his leadership roles. I have every confidence he will do a terrific job following in Bob Howe’s shoes.”
Looking ahead to his two years on the clock, in addition to gaveling in agendas that will continue to make life better for players, coaches and AD’s, Tahan also has a pair of pet projects he would like to tweak a bit. One is to continue to upgrade the Annual Meeting in an attempt to help make NEPSAC a more valuable resource for its AD’s. The other is to create a more efficient website.
“I think it’s been the goal of every NEPSAC president to try to offer a more rich and beneficial experience for AD’s attending the Annual Meeting,” said Tahan, who is proud to be the fourth Belmont Hill AD to serve as NEPSAC president, following in the footsteps of Bill Croke (1958), Chip Dewar (1984-85) and Ken Martin (1997-98).
“While we understand that AD’s are required to attend the Annual Meeting in order to keep their school’s membership in good standing, we have tried to make the experience something they can look forward to. We continue to do that by offering interesting and pertinent keynote speakers, AD workshops on a variety of important topics, access to a plethora of vendors and the ability to network and connect with each other in person and all under one roof on one day.”
“As for our website, our goal there is to move to one hundred percent online payments,” continued Tahan. “These payments include annual membership dues, annual coaches association dues and tournament entry fees. These payments were all previously done by checks and snail mail, which meant someone had to receive the checks, account for them and go to the bank to deposit them.
“This process was extremely time consuming and it also created delays in collecting the funds that are used to run the organization and its tournaments. The ability to do all of this electronically will create incredible efficiencies for both AD’s and for NEPSAC.”
Tahan is likely the owner of one of the most diverse resumes any NEPSAC president has ever brought to the roundtable. In 1992, he graduated from Boston University Law School and took a job as a litigation attorney in Philadelphia for three years. His role as a litigator was to represent defendants in civil law suits and would manage all phases of the litigation from the investigation, pleadings and discovery through pretrial, trial, settlement and appeals process.
“I just didn’t enjoy it, though,” admitted Tahan of his lawyering days. “I felt it was time to make a career change and I’d always wanted to teach and coach.” So, he wound up at Belmont Hill in January 1996, but he didn’t go straight to the athletic office – he started off in the business office.
“My career at Belmont Hill began as the assistant chief financial officer and director of financial aid and I began teaching economics my second year there,” explained Tahan, who would later move over to the athletic office in 2000.
He didn’t cut the cord to the classrooms with his move to head up the athletic department, however. In addition to economics, he has taught science classes such as Introduction to Engineering and Conceptual Physics, art classes such as Beginning Woodworking and an English elective: Maine Coast: A Cultural History. In it, seniors build skin on frame canoes and use them to study the cultural history of the Maine seacoast as well as its geography.
“When I applied for the job as AD I didn’t know much about it,” admitted Tahan, “but I talked Rick Melvoin, who was the headmaster at the time, into giving me a shot ... I sure hope he feels that he made a good decision.”
He should, considering Belmont Hill participates in the highly competitive Independent School League, where its teams are frequently the last ones standing. In fact, during the 2018-19 school year alone, 10 of the school’s teams chalked up 15 championships either on the league or New England level – or both.
Despite a school policy that says no athletic director can serve as the head coach of a varsity team, Tahan, who is the assistant middle school hockey coach and the former head coach of the middle school lacrosse team, “still got the opportunity to learn from one of the very best by spending 15 years as varsity hockey coach Ken Martin’s assistant.”
Martin, who was elected into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013, is one of the most successful high school/prep school coaches in the Commonwealth – and the entire country, for that matter, “and I was right there with him when he won his 500th, 600th and 700th games as well as his 707th … which was his final game at Belmont Hill.”
Coaching with Martin didn’t mark Tahan’s debut behind a hockey bench, however. That came during his law school days at BU, when he was named head coach of a fledgling women’s team, which was classified as a club team at the time.
“I don’t remember too much about those two seasons, except that our second season we tied 11 games. So, after the season, the players gave me a box of neck ties,” said Tahan, who, during his time in Philadelphia, spent his winter evenings and weekends as coach of the University of Pennsylvania men’s hockey team.
Tahan, who hails from Whitesboro, N.Y., played both hockey and lacrosse at Whitesboro High School before moving on to play hockey at the University of Buffalo, where he served as captain his senior year and described himself as “a mediocre Division III defenseman.”
Looking back over the past quarter century, Tahan feels good about the choices he has made in life, opting for athletic arenas over courtrooms ... Belmont Hill over Philadelphia … student-athletes over clients.
“You can’t be afraid to pull the dart out and throw it again,” said Tahan.
Looks like on his second try, he hit the bull’s eye.
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