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Uncle Donnie Takes On the World

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

David "Donnie" Donaldson, skier

 

Skier David Donaldson ’13 takes a leap of faith, from the carnival circuit to the World Cup

The Georgian Peaks Club is a small ski area in Ontario, carved out of a section of the Niagara escarpment that runs along the south shore of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. A couple of hours northwest of downtown Toronto, Georgian Peaks has a modest vertical drop of 820 feet. Think of a ski area slightly smaller than the Middlebury College Snow Bowl (1,000 vertical), but with stunning lake views.

David Donaldson ’13, one of the best alpine skiers ever to compete for Middlebury, is a Toronto native and got his start skiing and racing at Georgian Peaks. His parents, Paul and Catherine Donaldson, and his older sister, Sarah, were regulars at the Peaks by the time David came along. His first stop was the day care program. That lasted till he was two and a half.

“I think I made such a fuss in the Peaks day care while my parents, my sister, and all the other kids were out skiing that they finally couldn’t put up with me anymore,” Donaldson said, “and they just let me go, even though I was probably too young to start. The ski areas are all pretty tiny, and you can just let kids go and ski as much as they want. So I was able to just go as fast as I wanted, and I guess I learned how to do that pretty well.”

Well enough to excel in junior racing, make it to the cusp of the Canadian national team, and become one of the most decorated college skiers ever. Now he’s taking on a new challenge: Jumping from NCAA competition straight to the World Cup, hoping to make Canada’s Olympic team for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. And he’s doing it mostly on his own.

Update: Uncle Donnie’s Dream on Hold

A talented athlete, Donaldson played soccer, hockey, golf, and baseball, all at a high level, in addition to skiing. “David played every sport full tilt,” says Catherine Donaldson. “In skiing, you couldn’t get him off the hill. The lifts closed at 4:00 or 4:30, and the kids would always take the last ride, and it would take them forever to come down. They’d go off in the woods, build their own jumps.” Sarah Donaldson Kennedy says it helped her brother to have “an older sister, and all her friends, that he needed to keep up with.”

After thousands of hours on snow at the Peaks, Donaldson rose through the ranks of junior skiers in Ontario. He’s now about 5′ 11” and 175 pounds; at 15 he was tiny, weighing maybe 85 pounds, when he began skiing in races sanctioned by the International Ski Federation, known by its French acronym, FIS. But he persevered—and grew—and soon was competing for a spot on the Canadian national team. He never quite cemented a place on the team, though, and after some frustrating seasons, he was ready to give up on skiing when an old friend from Ontario, Johnny Davidson, called to suggest he consider skiing on the NCAA circuit for the University of Vermont, where Davidson had skied and was then a coach. Two years at UVM ensued, including a fistful of carnival wins, two All-American awards, and an NCAA giant slalom championship.

He spent the next season again trying to make the Canadian team, during which his eligibility at UVM ran out. Then Stever Bartlett, head coach of the alpine ski team at Middlebury, reached out to Donaldson, offering him the opportunity to use his remaining college eligibility skiing for the Panthers. Because of NCAA rules, Donaldson couldn’t ski right away. “First, he had to spend a year in residence at Middlebury,” said Bartlett. “He couldn’t race in carnivals. But he hit the books, and he was out there every day, working with the other skiers. [Assistant alpine ski coach] Abby Copeland and I were floored: Here was a guy who couldn’t race; he could have been pissed off and grumpy. Instead, he pitched in and helped out. He showed some pretty good maturity.”

Katelyn Barclay ’15 was one of five first-year women on that year’s team. “We had a fairly young team, and Donnie was coming in at 25,” said Barclay. “At a place like Middlebury, you don’t usually see a 25-year-old athlete of Donnie’s caliber. . . . We all saw him as the ‘cool uncle’ . . . and we started calling him Uncle Donnie, and eventually the name really stuck around campus and then on the carnival circuit.”

When Donaldson did get a chance to ski for Middlebury, in the 2013 season, all he did was win six carnival races: five in GS, including the first four in a row, and one in slalom. He had a rough time in GS at the NCAAs, held at the Snow Bowl, but rallied to finish second in slalom, leading the men’s team to its second straight slalom title.

The biggest news for Donaldson came after the NCAAs were over. Based on his performance in Nor-Am Cup giant slalom races, he earned a starting spot in every World Cup GS for the 2013–14 season. That made some slightly amazing things at least theoretically possible: He could use his World Cup results to qualify for the Canadian team and perhaps even make the Olympic team for Sochi.

He spent the off-season getting ready, both in the gym and training on snow, in New Zealand and Chile.

His first-ever World Cup start came in Sölden, Austria, in October, and while he had a good first split, his day ended early when he skied out in the first run. In December, the World Cup circuit moved to Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Giant slalom day, December 8, on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course dawned cold, with enough snow coming down to cause a race postponement. Once things got going, the fireworks came early. U.S. Ski Team star Ted Ligety demolished the field, and teammate Bode Miller finished second.

For Donaldson, starting 48th in his first North American World Cup, the goal was to finish in the top 30, to qualify for the second run, which is where you can score World Cup points: 100 points to the winner, down to one point for the person who finishes 30th. But even with his parents, his sister, and his brother-in-law in the stands cheering him on, it didn’t happen. He had a good top split on the demanding Birds of Prey course, but he got late and low on a gate about halfway down the course. He finished—the first time he’d finished a run on the World Cup—but missed the second run by four-tenths of a second.

“I just had nothing left in the tank,” Donaldson said in the finish area. “I spent it all up top and got down here and just had to fight to get to the bottom. I felt like I had a good run going. But then I made a big mistake. I had no legs, and I just couldn’t get high enough. I lost my speed there and had no speed for the whole bottom section.”

The day after Beaver Creek, Donaldson was on a plane for Europe and the iron of the World Cup schedule. He competed in GS on the tough track at Val d’Isère, France, known to racers, for good reason, as Val Despair. He didn’t finish the first run. Then it was on to Alta Badia, Italy, one of the most storied GS hills in the world, where he again was a first-run DNF.

The rough start illustrates why skiers rarely jump to the World Cup from college racing. World Cup courses are much tougher, half again as long, with surfaces that are often snow in name only. Race organizers firm up courses by injecting water into the surface or by tilling the snow and hosing it down. It’s not quite skating-rink hard, but close.

And for Donaldson, there is also the matter of tackling the World Cup on his own. Catherine Donaldson says her son “has been his own coach for a long time. He had a brief cup of coffee with the Canadian team. But otherwise he’s had to do it all on his own. He sets up his own trips, rents his own car, works on his own skis.” He does connect with the Canadian team at World Cup sites, but he’s otherwise a one-man band.

Forest Carey ’00 also came to college ski racing after chasing World Cup success. A three-time All-American and later head alpine coach for the Panthers, he’s now head coach of what’s called the World Cup multi- group for the U.S. Ski Team. His charges are Ligety and Miller, arguably the two best skiers in the history of the U.S. men’s team. “It’s cool to see David coming from college to earn a World Cup spot on his own,” Carey said. “He’s got eight starts on the World Cup that no one can take away from him. That being said, the challenge is enormous. The Nor-Am circuit is a good one, but it’s all in the comfort of North America. The courses are shorter and not typically prepared with water; you don’t get the gnarly conditions that you find regularly on the World Cup.”

Carey pointed out the importance of equipment at this level. “He’s probably preparing his own skis, and that adds a lot to the burden. And he’s having to ski on new equipment,” thanks to some FIS rule changes governing World Cup GS skis, making them longer and thinner, with less sidecut. “The guys on the World Cup have it pretty well sorted out. They’re skiing as well now on the new stuff as they did on the old skis. Donnie will still be getting used to them. With all that, and having to deal with his own finances, it’s just a huge challenge. To be ranked in the top 30 on the World Cup at the end of the year would be a huge success.”

Those who know him best will tell you that Donaldson is nothing if not persistent. Which is why he’s determined to come back and finish up the courses he needs to get his Middlebury degree. But first, there’s the matter of chasing the dream that began at Georgian Peaks almost 25 years ago.

Kip Harrington, head coach of the Canadian development team, has coached Donaldson and known him for years. If Uncle Donnie’s quest seems at times quixotic, Harrington reminds us that Donaldson, once just a skinny kid, “has been a little bit behind the curve all the way along. But he’s always gotten there eventually.”

Tim Etchells ’74 is a freelance writer in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. In the winter months he’s more likely to be found on the ski slopes—either at the Snow Bowl or at ski racing events near and far, covering the sport for national magazines.

Update: Uncle Donnie’s Dream On Hold

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

David "Donnie" Donaldson, skierDavid Donaldson’s pursuit of a spot on the Canadian team for the Sochi Games (“Uncle Donnie Takes On the World” ) came to sudden and painful end in Val d’Isere, France, on January 21.

In a super G (short for super giant slalom, which is, speed-wise, just short of a downhill race) at Val d’Isere, Donaldson, Class of ’13, had made a few mistakes at the top, but was determined to finish the race, to learn more about the hill in advance of another race the next day. He actually thought he skied the bottom of the course pretty well, and was four turns from the finish when, well, we’ll let him tell you the rest, in an excerpt from his blog at theuncledonnie.com:

“The turn was in the dark, hidden from the sun by the peak of Val d’Isere that was now above and behind me. My right ski broke away and I began to fall inside. Instinct and reaction made me fight for it immediately. My left ski took the load. Still carving on my inside ski and having lost my outside ski I was forced into a pretty deep squat and was also twisting away into what might have turned into a pretty nasty high-side (fall) into some A-netting. Fortunately, I held. My left ski with my ankle and knee driving into the turn held on the ice and I began to come up out of the squat and into my tuck. I even began to roll the left ankle and knee over in preparation to attack the top of the next turn. For three ski lengths. The bottom of one turn, transition, and the very hint of the top of the next turn … I felt and heard the grind. Like tin foil being crushed and scraped against itself. And for the briefest of moments. Enough time for just a thought to cross my mind, I said to myself. ‘Holy —-, I just about tore my knee!’ And just as that thought crossed my mind I heard it and felt it. It felt like an explosion in my knee. POP!”

Donaldson traveled home from France the next day, and has been doing physical therapy ever since, to get his leg as strong as possible heading into surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee. He had the operation on February 20, and is doing his recovery in Collingwood, Ontario, north of Toronto, which is where he grew up skiing at Georgian Peaks. He’ll get back to physio again after the mandatory five days of no activity.

And then decide what’s next.

The Call of the Wild

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery '14, Katherine McFarren '14, and Alexander Cort '14 (L-R)

Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery ’14, Katherine McFarren ’14, and Alexander Cort ’14 (L-R)

What does it mean to be a Middlebury student—and a dedicated hunter?

At 5:15 am on opening weekend of Vermont’s rifle deer-hunting season, the Mobil Short Stop at the corner of Commerce Street and State Route 116 in Hinesburg is the province of pickup trucks and bearded, camo-clad guys buying coffee from Joanne, the affable cashier who wishes the hunters good luck.

Then there’s John Montgomery ’14, who has a monogrammed bag in the back of his Suburban with Texas plates. A varsity lacrosse player and an international politics and economics major, he already has a job lined up in energy-investment banking in Houston.

But right now, Montgomery is after something even more elusive than gainful employment after graduation: a 12-point buck that’s been seen wandering through a marshy meadow not far from this Mobil station.

Yes, Montgomery is a serious hunter. And he’s not alone at Middlebury. In little pockets around campus, students and faculty members are waking up in the dark to pull on orange caps, load up rifles, and pursue wild animals.

Some, like Montgomery, have been doing this their entire lives; others have picked up hunting as first-years because it’s the most sustainable way to consume meat at Middlebury. They are part of a massive rebound in hunting culture across the United States—according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife-related outdoor recreation jumped “dramatically” from 2006 to 2011, with nearly 14 million people now hunting.

And in Vermont, the state’s laws are some of the most hunter friendly in the nation, explains Pat Berry ’91, the Commissioner of Vermont Fish and Wildlife. “Vermont is founded on the theme of the commons, which is that, yes, land is owned by individuals, but there’s a sense of community and shared ethics around communal land use,” says Berry. He points to Lake Champlain, the Green Mountain National Forest, and the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area as rich hunting resources in close proximity to the College.

Today, hunters spend nearly $300 million in the state, which ranges first among the lower 48 states in wildlife-related recreation rates. Just witness Governor Peter Shumlin grinning over the six-point, 186-pound buck he bagged in East Montpelier in November.

Greg Buckles, the Middlebury dean of admissions and longtime hunting and fishing guide, says that when he arrived in the community from Ohio in 2008, he was pleasantly surprised to find how much of an ethical and responsible hunting culture existed at Middlebury. “It’s a low-key, natural way of life,” says Buckles. “Many more people than I ever could have expected hunted. I’d not seen that before in my 30 years in education, where a progressive, academic community coexisted peacefully with a hunting lifestyle.”

Self-reliant, committed—and culinary wizards with game—College hunters just may be part of the most ecologically minded and coolest (if most socially complicated) unofficial club at Middlebury. It’s one that has fostered friendships with the greater Vermont community and one that teaches lifelong skills about hard work—respect, mortality, time management, and discovering joy and gratitude.

“Everybody goes and hikes Snake Mountain,” says Montgomery of his non-hunting fellow students. But it’s another level of commitment to get up “at 3 am to go duck hunting when it’s 20 degrees out—and then go to class.”

But there’s that social complication, one that can push back against the hunting lifestyle that Buckles describes that has existed at the College for generations.

“I think that there are some really misguided perceptions among people who are not from a rural setting and simply don’t understand hunting and have prejudged it,” says Berry. (While all of the students interviewed for this story were comfortable speaking about their hunting experiences, not all faculty and staff were. One longtime hunter asked not to be identified and spoke of hunting companions who wish “to stay fairly closeted, if you will, for fear of push back from colleagues.”)

This troubles Berry. “Hunters play a critical role in wildlife conservation management; there’s a tremendous ecological value,” he explains. “I think people misunderstand the hunting culture, which is easy to do if you ever turn on any of the hunting shows. Hunting is one of the safest activities; there are fewer incidents of accidents with hunting as a sport than most outdoor activities.”

Hunter-safety education is a prerequisite for a Vermont hunting license, and hunters such as Montgomery and Alex Cort ’14, who grew up practicing target sports while at summer camp in North Carolina, have years of experience under their belt. Those students new to hunting describe an intensive learning experience—state-sanctioned classroom and field-study courses must be completed before being issued a hunting license. Hunting rifles, shotguns, knives, bows, and archery supplies must be registered with the College’s Department of Public Safety and either stored there or at an off-campus facility.

“Some people might look at you like you’re doing something bad, but there’s not too many of those,” says Montgomery. “The majority think it’s neat or cool; they just don’t understand it.”

Cort recalls a time when he returned to his suite with four dead geese in plastic garbage bags, and the reaction from his roommates was “wow, that’s a lot of dead birds.” Most of his friends are on board with his hunting, he says, though he also takes pride in how his extracurricular activity can set him apart and allows him to interact with non-Middlebury students.

The Sochi Experience

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

simi_hamiltonFor the second-consecutive Winter Olympics, cross-country skier Simi Hamilton ’09 competed for the United States. We look back on his road to Sochi.

American cross-country skier Simeon “Simi” Hamilton ’09, a three-time NCAA All-American at Middlebury, did something on December 31 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, that no American male had done in more than 30 years. He won a cross-country World Cup race.

In a 1.5km sprint freestyle (skating) race, Hamilton won a frantic fight on the final straightaway with Canada’s Alex Harvey and Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway to take his first-ever leg of the Tour de Ski, part of the cross-country World Cup circuit, and earn his first World Cup podium (top three) finish. The win was also the first by an American male on the World Cup since Bill Koch won the Sarajevo 30km event in February 1983.

With the Sochi Games just a month away, there was suddenly a bit of additional media glare on Hamilton’s Olympic prospects. Hamilton, from Aspen, Colorado, arrived in Sochi being talked about as a contender in the sprint events. And he would not have disagreed with that assessment.

As it happened, the Olympics didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. All the Olympic cross-country races were held at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center, a lovely venue at the top of a long cable-car ride, a couple of thousand vertical feet above the mountain town of Krasnaya Polyana. Most of the early races, in particular, were held in sweltering temperatures, for world-class skiing, in the mid-50s. There was plenty of snow up at Laura, but its consistency was constantly shifting – slush in the sunshine, glare ice in the shadows – and ski techs had a tough time dialing in base preparations and wax choices. In fact, one of the biggest stories in cross-country racing at the Games was the inability of the vaunted Norwegian team to provide its athletes with skis that worked.

So, against this backdrop, in the men’s 1.8km sprint freestyle, Hamilton made it to the quarterfinals, but finished sixth in his heat, with only the top two advancing, leaving him in 27th place overall. He was part of the 4x10km relay team for Team USA that finished 11th. And he teamed with Erik Bjornsen in the men’s team sprint classic event, qualifying for the finals and finishing a respectable sixth overall. Bjornsen, a distance specialist, was pinch-hitting for Hamilton’s usual sprint partner, Andy Newell, who was knocked out by illness.

“I was really hoping for a little more success here,” he said right after the team sprint on February 19, during which he ran six laps of a grueling 1.8km course. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of good international experience over the years, and I’ve been progressing every single season. Last year was kind of a frustrating season with a lot of illness, but this year I feel like I made some really big gains, and I’ve felt fitter than I ever have and my speed is a lot better.

“So, to come here and be 27th in the sprint was definitely a little frustrating. But you know, at the same time, I think one of my strengths is just looking at the big picture, and I think being a good ski racer means that you’re a well-rounded racer, and you can process things, and take them in stride and learn from them. And the more you ski race, the more you realize that not every day is going to be the best day ever.”

While he found his Olympic experience somewhat frustrating, his focus is on the future. “I was looking forward to this day [the team sprint] all week, he said, “and now I’m looking forward to getting some really good training in over the next 10 days before we have a skate sprint in Lahti, Finland, and finishing out the season really well.

“Yeah, it’s a cool experience being here with a great team and a great staff, in a beautiful place, and my family’s here. No matter what the result is, we’re just lucky to be on this team and be here and represent the U.S.”

A People’s History, Documented and Taught

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Student protesters at Middlebury in 1970.

Student protesters at Middlebury in 1970.

Around 10 p.m. on January 22, the third Wednesday of winter term, Hanna Mahon ’13.5 and Kristina Johansson ’14 finally drew an end to their long day and waved good-bye to each other. In fewer than 12 hours, they’d be seeing each other again.

 But unlike other students around campus, who were following similar winter term routines, Mahon and Johansson’s relationship was different—they were co-teachers for a student-led course called A People’s History of Middlebury College.

Different from the other course offerings during winter term, A People’s History was conceived, created, and instructed entirely by the two students. And while student-led winter term courses date back to 1970— a year when Alan Agle ’70 and Barry Sullivan ’70 offered courses on computer systems and on Rousseau, respectively—they are not annual occurrences because they require a skill set and level of organization that not every student has or wants to employ.

Take that busy Wednesday, for instance. That day, the two instructors had arranged for a pair of guest speakers, Steve Early ’71 and Torie Osborn ’72, to offer an oral history of student protests at Middlebury in the ’60s and ’70s. Right after class, the eight students, their peer instructors, and the guest speakers headed to the Grille for a continued lunch discussion on activism. After a two-hour break, they reconvened at Wonnacott House for dinner with the course’s faculty adviser, Jonathan Miller-Lane, other alumni, and professors. A heated discussion at the dinner table was followed by a panel discussion, titled Middlebury in the 1960s: Student Resistance and Social Change, held in Dana Auditorium.

“This is a complicated, moving-parts course they’ve organized—guest speakers, the archives, this panel,” said Miller-Lane. “They are taking it very seriously and are deeply committed to it. I’ve been really grateful to see that happening, to see the quality of their thinking and the quality of their work.”

And while the schedule that Wednesday wasn’t exactly typical for the class—most days did not require five-plus-hours of attendance—the content of the day was representative of a class that “centered on marginalized voices and on periods of struggle” at Middlebury. It was, in the words of its creators, about the stories of buried or forgotten resistance and struggles of the students, faculty, and staff of the College during the past two centuries of its existence, episodes that contributed to Middlebury as it is today.

Mahon and Johansson started researching protest movements at Middlebury after returning from Occupy Wall Street in New York City in 2012. Mahon says that it was the first time she had thought about her place within a legacy of people who had tried to make changes at Middlebury. In the summer of 2013, she and Johansson applied for funding from the Center for Careers & Internships (CCI), stayed on campus to research and construct a history of struggles and resistance at Middlebury, and created an interactive Web museum with the findings. Soon after their project started, they believed that their endeavor was worthy of further investigation with a larger group of peers.

As an independent scholar with a focus on peace and justice studies and an educational studies minor, Mahon had heard about student-led classes and suggested to Johansson that they design a course. With the guidance of Miller-Lane they did just that, submitting an application in September 2013; two months later, the faculty curriculum committee approved their proposal and A People’s History of Middlebury College, STLD1006, was scheduled for winter term 2014.

According to Miller-Lane, teaching the class as an instructor constituted the praxis part of Mahon’s senior project, where theory and practice come together. “The course enables her to extend herself,” Miller-Lane said. “To take the study she’s done and organize the course around this idea is different from producing a product like a thesis. It requires effort to bring those pieces together.”

“Very often the professors’ courses will be on big-lens, broad-view social movements,” Miller-Lane added. “The course is unique in that it’s very specific to this institution. There are occasionally courses like that, but I don’t think this is filling a gap that is only fillable by student-led courses.”

Although alumni and professors with more experience teaching may instruct the same content as well as, if not better than, Mahon and Johansson, the democratic and dispersed power dynamic in the classroom has been appreciated by enrolled students.

“There is a more relaxed atmosphere in class,” said Kate McCreary ’15. “It seems that people are more likely to speak up about what they’re thinking without a professor in the room, particularly in a class that can be rather critical of Middlebury.”

Rebekah Moon ’15 agreed. “I think people have a tendency to be more candid about personal experiences that relate to the material or their honest opinion about a particular ideology or event if there isn’t an official authoritative figure around, which is really nice.”

Admittedly, Mahon and Johansson feared that their identity as students would compromise their student-teacher relationships, giving their peers an excuse not to take them seriously, but they found the opposite to be true. Because students and instructors were naturally around each other outside the classroom, they found that conversations from class spilled over to lunch tables and everyday life. Further, they discovered that their identity as peers made members of the course feel more, rather than less, accountable.

“Since this is my last semester here, I have a lot of social things going on in my life,” said Gregg Butler ’13.5. “If I had taken another class, I think I would have done a lot less work. Because they’ve created this communal feel to the class, I want to throw myself into these things and I don’t want to disappoint them.”

On January 29, the last Wednesday of the term, the class presented their work to the public in conjunction with an exhibit in the Davis Family Library. (The exhibit opened a week before the presentation.) Among the topics discussed: the treatment of racial and religious minority students by fraternities in the ’40s and ’50s; a LGBTQ group organizing on campus during the ’90s and the first decade of this century; the ways in which Middlebury students have “passed” as members of different identity groups throughout the ages; and the campus political climate during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If a protest, by definition, is an expression of objection or disapproval, I think some of the students’ projects represented their ‘objections’ or ‘protest’ to the official history of Middlebury,” Rebekah Irwin, director of Collections, Archives & Digital Scholarship, commented after the presentation. “The College’s written history is incomplete, and the students very actively (and exhaustively) worked to make additions and corrections to the College’s historical record.”

Sara Bachman ’13.5 agreed with Irwin and added, “I think the student-led class is a little bit of an active protest saying that we’re going take charge, we can do this too.”

________________________________

Besides the panel on student protests in the ’60s and ’70s mentioned at the beginning, and the Web museum on the resistance and struggles in our community that students are continuously adding to, Special Collections also mounted an exhibit drawn from the College Archives—A People’s History of Middlebury College: Student Resistance and Social Change, based on the course.

Midd Goes to the Super Bowl

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
Damon Hatheway '13.5, on assignment for Middlebury Magazine, interviews Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka '07 at Super Bowl Media Day

Damon Hatheway ’13.5, on assignment for Middlebury Magazine, interviews Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka ’07 at Super Bowl Media Day

Super Bowl Media Day is an event that needs to be experienced to be believed. Hundreds of sports journalists, television personalities, and camera crews swarm, first to the tables topped with pastries, then to the players entering the arena. Out comes Richard Sherman, sardonically taking pictures of the media members flashing him with strobes; out comes quarterback Russell Wilson, all 5’10 and ¾’’ of him calm, cool, and collected; out comes head coach Pete Carroll, a jovial smile permanently fixed on his face. Behind them—and out of the glare from the jostling horde—is Seahawks’ kicker Steven Hauschka ’07.

Hauschka doesn’t have a booth to sit in or microphone to talk through or even a Gatorade to help promote the Super Bowl’s corporate sponsors. In fact, if he wasn’t dressed in Seattle’s team-issued sweats he would pass for any of the media members—well, maybe not the team from Entertainment Tonight—or fans in attendance.

Standing off in a back corner, the 6’4’’ Needham, Massachusetts, native answers questions from the Wall Street Journal (about where he has spent his time in Manhattan) and the New York Times  (“would you rather play one Bronco-sized duck or fifty duck-sized Broncos?”), generously engaging in these reporters’ shticks.

And it turns out that Hauschka spent the previous night at dinner with friends from Middlebury—a point for the Wall Street Journal.

“We went to dinner in Union Square, it was a great time,” he said. “It almost feels like you’re getting married—everyone wants to be there and share this special time with you.”

For the 28-year old, kicking in the Super Bowl would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Haushcka’s kicking career began unceremoniously; the former junior varsity soccer player missed three of his first four career attempts as a Middlebury Panther.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said before adding, “I don’t remember that! I thought I made every kick I had at Middlebury.”

By the time his Panther career had ended, Hauschka seemingly had made every kick, rewriting the team’s record books and awing fans and his coaches alike with his accuracy and leg, booming kickoffs that often sailed through the uprights—75 yards away.

Division I teams began to take notice. With a year of football eligibility remaining, Hauschka played his final season at North Carolina State, where he was teammates with current Seahawks J.R. Sweezy and Wilson.

“He came in and could kick the ball for days, which was something that I had never seen before,” said Sweezy, who was a redshirt freshman at NC State when Hauschka arrived in the fall of 2007. “It was kind of cool knowing we had a good field goal kicker—he won a couple of big games for us.”

Hauschka had a game-winning kick on the road against Miami and was a finalist for the Lou Groza award, which recognizes the best placekicker in college football. But a career in the NFL was far from guaranteed. Hauschka was cut by five different teams, including John Fox’s Denver Broncos, and played for a stint in the United Football League, before catching on in Seattle. This year, in his third season with the Seahawks, Hauschka made 33 of 35 attempts as the second-most-accurate kicker in the NFL.

Jon Ryan, who holds for Hauschka in addition to his duties as a punter, said that Hauschka’s consistency is what distinguishes him from other kickers.

“He’s a real thinking-type guy, watches a lot of film and has become very consistent in all of his routines,” Ryan said. “That’s the most important part of punting and kicking, finding that consistency. He’s had one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen a kicker have, to be honest with you.”

Special teams coach Brian Schneider believes Hauschka’s off-the-field preparation creates that consistency.

 “Throughout the week what he does to get ready for a game is really something,” he said. “He’s too smart for me, that’s for sure.”

Nor does it hurt that Hauschka studied neuroscience at Middlebury, which he said has “helped him with the mental side of the game.”

But what of the pressure involved in kicking in front of 68,000 people, as he did in the Seahawks’ NFC Championship victory?

“The kicking is different,” he admitted. “[At Middlebury I] only kicked in front of 2,000 people at any one time.”

On the other hand, if Sunday’s Super Bowl forecast calls for snow, Hauschka’s experience kicking in Vermont, and around the NESCAC, may give him the upper hand.

“We kicked on some of the worst fields in the country—especially some of those grass fields when they got a lot of rain,” he said. “So that prepared me for some of the bad conditions that I would see in the NFL.”

A few minutes later, Deion Sanders walks over to interview Hauschka for the NFL Network. As Sanders walks away, Middlebury Magazine editor Matt Jennings asks him whether Hauschka will make a game-winning field goal if that’s what the game boils down to. Without hesitating, Sanders nods and says, “Oh, yes. He’ll make it. That’s for sure.”

Inside Midd Basketball

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video
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Damon Hatheway, Fyle Finck, and Sasha Schell are producing a web video series on the Middlebury men’s basketball team.

Three student video makers plan to take their audience onto the court and behind the scenes of Middlebury’s men’s basketball team this season with a new documentary series titled “The Road to Salem.” The team has enjoyed a remarkable ascension through the ranks in recent years, and the new series hopes to capture the stories of this season.

Producer Kyle Finck ’14 dreamed up the series while studying abroad in Prague. “What fascinated me about Middlebury basketball was that at a college where every student is doing a thousand different things, there are few times where the different silos are brought together,” said Finck, who is also editor of The Middlebury Campus. “Middlebury basketball is one of those. Apart from commencement and convocation, where can you see 2,000 Middlebury students in one place?”

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The audience gets a player’s-eye view of Coach Jeff Brown during practice.

Finck, Damon Hatheway ’13.5 and Sasha Schell ’15.5 amassed a huge library of game and practice footage over the past year. Hatheway is the lead writer, while Schell edits the series. Schell and Finck both shoot video. Two more students, Innocent Tswamuno ’15 and Ian Stewart ’14, add original music, and graphics respectively.

In the first installment we meet Coach Jeff Brown and learn that his remarkable success in recent years was hard earned over many challenging seasons at Middlebury. Finck says the goal is not to create a promotional piece, but to tell an honest, compelling story about coaches and players.

With a documentary flavor, the story alternates on-court action with practices and thoughtful interviews. Episodes planned for second semester include player profiles, the big game against Williams, and the uniquely emotional rivalry with Amherst College. Later, depending on the team’s success, look for coverage of the NESCAC and NCAA tournaments. “Salem” in the title refers to Salem, Virginia, home of the NCAA Division III Final Four in March.

Here are the first two episodes. Stay tuned for more.