Family Ties

Deep connections to the town and the College led Kate Perine Livesay ’03 to choose Middlebury—not once, but twice.

On a spring evening in 1999, Kate Perine and a friend were poring over their honors economics homework in Rosenwald-Shumway, a girls’ dorm at Deerfield Academy. Kate was wrapping up a postgraduate year at the independent school in western Massachusetts after finishing up her career at Middlebury (Vt.) Union High School the previous year.

But Kate had more than just homework on her mind. Another consequential deadline loomed: she had to decide where to go to college. She’d been accepted at both Amherst and Middlebury; coaches at both schools were hoping to have her on their field hockey and lacrosse teams. She had visited both campuses but couldn’t seem to make up her mind. As the month between her acceptance letters and decision day wound down, her parents, and two admissions offices, grew increasingly restive. “They were both great choices,” she says now. “In retrospect, there was no bad outcome—though I guess that’s up for debate, because who really wants to wear purple?”

After listening to perhaps more than she wanted to hear about Kate’s dilemma, her friend suggested a solution: flip a coin. At first, Kate thought it was ridiculous to leave that kind of decision to chance. But her friend argued it would be a way to get at Kate’s true feelings. Say it’s heads for Amherst, and tails for Middlebury, and you flip the coin, and it comes up heads. If you’re excited, then you know Amherst was right for you. But if you feel inclined to flip again, then you know Middlebury was the school you really wanted. So they flipped the coin, and Kate now says she doesn’t remember whether it came up heads or tails. But she does recall the hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach as she contemplated the coin flip going Amherst’s way. In that moment, she was sure where she wanted to go.

Fast-forward to today, and you can look back on an 18-year series of events set in motion by that coin flip. It includes two NCAA championships in lacrosse at Middlebury as a player; 10 years at Trinity College, eight as head coach, with a national title in lacrosse for the Bantams, their first; and an eventual return to her alma mater, in fall 2014, as assistant to Middlebury’s legendary lacrosse coach, Missy Foote. Kate spent a year as Missy’s assistant, helping her and the team reach the NCAA Final Four in 2015, the final season in Missy’s 38-year, hall-of-fame career. Then Kate, now Kate Perine Livesay, took over the program for the 2016 season, which ended with another NCAA championship for the Panthers, and coach-of-the-year awards for both Kate and her assistant, Alice Lee.

Back in 1999, in Middlebury, Kate’s parents couldn’t foresee any of this. They were just happy Kate had made a decision, finally, and they knew where to send a deposit. And while they hadn’t pushed her in one direction or another, they were beyond thrilled to hear that Middlebury College was the choice.

Ken Perine and Carolyn Leggett Perine ’73 had long family connections with the College and the town. Both grew up in Middlebury and were classmates at Middlebury Union High School. Carolyn Leggett, president of her senior class, was a four-sport athlete at MUHS, playing field hockey, basketball, and softball, as well as a little lacrosse on a club team. She would go on to Middlebury College, graduating in 1973. Ken Perine was a cross-country runner, a ski racer, and a golfer. He was senior class vice president. He earned a degree from Dartmouth but spent his last year of college at Middlebury.

Carolyn’s mother, Janet Leggett, worked for decades in the dean of students office at the College. Carolyn’s sister Jane also worked at the school, as did numerous cousins and in-laws. Ken’s father, Gordie Perine ’49, worked in admissions and then in alumni affairs and fundraising at Middlebury. (He became known over his many years at the College as “Mr. Middlebury.”) Gordie, who came to Middlebury after serving in World War II, and his wife, Alice Neef ’47, met as students at the College. Alice, who also received a master’s from the Bread Loaf School of English, was a teacher for many years at Middlebury Union High School.

After graduating from Middlebury, Carolyn joined the admissions office, expecting to spend a couple of years there. She retired 38 years later as associate dean. Ken retired a couple of years ago after a long run as president of the National Bank of Middlebury.

Given all those connections, it seemed surprising that of their four children—Chandler, Jennifer, and twins Kristen and Kathryn—none had chosen to attend Middlebury, until Kate’s fateful coin flip. Chan went to Bowdoin College, followed a few years later by his sister Kristi. And Jenn had chosen the University of Vermont.

Carolyn and Ken say there was no pressure on Kate to pick Middlebury, and Kate agrees. But her parents do think her postgrad year at Deerfield made it easier for her to do so. Kids who grow up in a college town often feel the need to expand their horizons when it’s time to choose a college. But Kate had already been away; her decision was to return home, not simply to stay put. She also got some positive reinforcement from her Deerfield classmates; many were dying to attend Middlebury. It was, ultimately, the family connections, her love for the place, and her respect for Missy Foote that tipped the scales in Middlebury’s favor.

Ken says his father, Gordie, was also wondering whether there would be another generation of the Perine family at Middlebury. “My dad would never have pushed Kate in that direction,” Ken said, “but he was secretly hoping.” Carolyn recalls that even in his last days, Gordie made it to all of Kate’s home games. “One of our best pictures is of him and Kate, after a lacrosse game, and he’s on a golf cart with an oxygen tank,” Carolyn said. “He was her biggest supporter.” He passed away in 2002.

No doubt Gordie—“Grandpa GoGo” to the Perine kids—was a big supporter. But Kate and her siblings had no more enthusiastic fans than their parents, who introduced them to sports of all kinds at an early age. Carolyn, who had also played lacrosse in college, started up a girls’ youth lacrosse league when her daughters were old enough to get involved.

It wasn’t long before Carolyn and Ken became fixtures on the sidelines at high school games. They were the couple with the tripod and the video camera, taping just about every game their kids played. Carolyn started things off, just because she enjoyed doing it, and then Ken joined in as play-by-play guy. “The way I remember it,” he said, “we were watching the girls play basketball, and I was very vocal. Carolyn got tired of listening to my harangues, so she handed me a microphone and said, ‘Here, you can talk into this. You can’t swear, you can’t say bad things about people. You have to be positive.’ ”

Thus was born a family hobby that would produce hundreds of tapes, from both high school and college games, still filling most of a room in the Perine household. They shared tapes with the parents of athletes who’d had especially good games, and coaches asked for copies to share with opposing teams. At the end of each season, Carolyn would make highlight reels for the teams.

The filmmakers kept at it right through their children’s college careers, though it was a little more complicated when they had kids on men’s and women’s teams at both Bowdoin and Middlebury. They recall some horrendous weather conditions, with perhaps the worst being a game, not in Maine or Vermont, but at Connecticut College, where the field was still surrounded by snow, and the wind was howling off the frigid waters of Long Island Sound.

They also saw a lot of good lacrosse. During Kate’s four years at Middlebury (she also played four years of field hockey and two years of basketball), the lacrosse team lost a total of three games, put up 51 straight wins in one stretch, and took home two NCAA titles, in 2001 and 2002.

After she graduated in 2003, Kate spent part of a year working at Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury, saving up for a five-month trip to New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia with two college teammates, Dana Chapin Anselmi ’02 and Meg Bonney Martinson ’03. “My parents said, ‘That’s fine, but we want you to have a job to come back to,’” Kate recalled. She had looked into graduate assistant coaching jobs and found that another former teammate, Julia Bergofsky McPhee ’02, would be winding up a two-year stint at Trinity at about the time Kate got back from her travels. She landed a job there, coaching field hockey and lacrosse and working on a master’s degree in history.

As her two-year stint wound down, Kate learned Trinity head coach Kara Tierney was going to be away for a year as her husband did a one-year residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H. Kate took over as interim head coach and the team did well, qualifying for the NCAA tournament. “That was really exciting,” Kate said, “and it turned out that early in the season, Kara announced she wouldn’t be coming back. So it was just total luck that we did really well, and they said, ‘Well, we don’t feel the need to do a search.’ So I just sort of fell into the head coaching job. And it ended up being a great gig.”

That summer, 2007, Kate married Reeves Livesay, a Bowdoin grad. She started work as the head women’s lacrosse coach in the fall, and later that academic year she completed her thesis and earned her master’s degree. She would go on to serve as head coach for eight years, turning Trinity into a powerhouse in the NESCAC and on the national scene. She had a record of 127 wins versus 26 losses, for an .830 winning percentage; her teams won four NESCAC championships and, in 2012, an NCAA title.

In the Livesay years, the Bantams also became something of a nemesis for Missy Foote and the Middlebury Panthers. In Kate’s last five years at Trinity, starting with the 2010 season, they defeated Middlebury eight straight times, including the regular season and NESCAC and NCAA playoff games; six were one-goal wins.

***

Kate’s success was in Missy Foote’s mind when she began thinking about retirement. She tells the story of being in a meeting of the Porter Hospital board of directors when the discussion turned to succession planning for the hospital’s longtime CEO, Jim Daily. They talked about having someone come in and work with Daily for a year before his retirement. “And sitting right across from me, at the other end of the table, is Ken Perine,” Missy said. “And so I’m looking at Ken, and I’m literally writing notes to myself saying, ‘Ahh, now I know how I want to do this. I want someone to come in and learn the ropes for a year, and I know who that person should be.’”

Missy had always admired Kate’s competitiveness and field sense as a player. “What makes her a great coach is what made her a great player,” Missy said. “She was a low defender, and she loved to be able to see the whole field, to evaluate what was going on. She knew, three moves ahead, what she was going to do with the ball.”

Missy raised the possibility with Erin Quinn ’86, Middlebury’s athletic director, of asking Kate to consider coming on as an assistant for a year, with the understanding that she would take over when Missy retired at the end of the 2015 season. He was supportive but also said they could do it the old-fashioned way, with Missy retiring and then starting the search for a new coach. But as he and Missy talked it over, they came up with a lot of pluses to having a carefully planned transition. If they could get Kate to agree, Erin said, instead of telling prospective students that they really didn’t know who the coach would be next year, “we’d be able to say that Missy, a hall-of-famer, was going to coach one more year and then retire, and, holy cow, the new coach would be Kate Livesay, who won a national championship at Trinity.”

Kate’s tenure at Trinity had been great, and she wasn’t looking for another job, but she and Reeves, by then the parents of two girls, Alice and Dana, were thinking a little more about the future, and where it might take them.One important reason was the diagnosis Carolyn Perine received in February 2011: she had cancer of the appendix. She had her first operation in March of that year, the start of a long series of treatments. At the time of her diagnosis, she already had four grandchildren, and all four of her children were expecting new arrivals. “Despite my losing 50 pounds from some intense chemo,” Carolyn said, “Ken and I were at the births of all four girls, two in Boston, one in Hartford, and one in Middlebury.” Six years later, their tribe of grandchildren has grown to an even dozen.

All of the issues in Middlebury made it hard for their grown children, part of such a close-knit family, not to be nearby. Jenn and her family lived in town, Chan and Kristi were down in Boston, and Hartford seemed a long way from home. So when the possibility of a return to Middlebury came up, Kate was ready to take it seriously.

“When I was at Trinity, I was happy to be there, and didn’t allow myself to daydream about what-ifs,” she said. But things changed when her mother got sick. “It’s just so hard to know what’s around the corner with an illness,” she said, “so for us, we were willing to do whatever we could to be near my mom, with our kids. That was a huge part of the decision to come back.” By the time they got to Middlebury, Kate and Reeves had a third child: Annie was born in 2014, the week before they moved north.

Missy and Kate agree that their year of coaching together could hardly have gone better. Missy was still very clearly the head coach, but Kate brought her own strengths to the job. “It was great,” Missy said. “It was like having two head coaches, on and off the field.” Erin Quinn points out that head field hockey coach Katharine DeLorenzo was also an assistant in lacrosse that season. “I was hoping that the women on that team appreciated what they had,” he said, “with those three on the sidelines, all amazing coaches, all incredible role models.”

The team had a great run through the regular season and playoffs, making it to the NCAA semifinal game. There were only two seniors on the team (though two important players)—Katie Ritter ’15 and Cat Fowler ’15—so Kate got to know well the team she would be taking over in 2016.

In 2015, the Panthers lost their regular-season game to Trinity, Kate’s former team. And they did so again last year, Kate’s first season as head coach. But in that game, Kate felt, you could see the beginning of the end of the Trinity jinx. The game was close at halftime, and the team “realized that if we played hard, we could make them uncomfortable, we could take them out of their flow,” Kate said. In the second half, they lost some draws and a few calls didn’t go their way, and they wound up losing, 13–9. Kate believed the players just hadn’t developed enough confidence in themselves. “But we learned that we needed to be more aggressive defensively,” she said, “and play as more of a unit offensively. We spent a lot of time on offensive movement from that game on.”

Turns out that was the team’s first and last loss of the season. Three weeks later, in the NESCAC final at Trinity, the Panthers built an 8–1 lead at halftime and held on for a 10–7 win that gave them an automatic NCAA berth. Trinity received an at-large bid, and it was not hard to envision the two teams meeting again in the national championship game.

“By the time we got to the NESCAC final,” Kate said, “we talked in the locker room about how this isn’t Trinity you’re playing. This is the team that’s in the way of you winning the NESCAC championship. And we played a really great first half, and even though Trinity came back in the second half, we did what we needed to do. And we won. If we’d played a perfect game, maybe we wouldn’t have had the same focus going into the NCAAs.”

The team played well and beat Gettysburg in the NCAA regional final, and then it was on to the Final Four, which included Trinity. In the semifinals, they faced Cortland State, which had been ranked first in Division III most of the season. “I wasn’t sure we were better than Cortland, and I’m still not sure,” Kate said, “but we certainly played better that Saturday.”

Middlebury won, 16–11, advancing to the championship game—against Trinity. The Panthers built a 5–0 lead at halftime, and held off a Bantam rally to win, 9–5, and take their first NCAA title since 2004.

Ken and Carolyn Perine, longtime chroniclers of their daughter’s athletic career, were celebrating, but the 2016 playoffs were different for them. They didn’t travel to Philadelphia for the games but instead spent the weekend taking care of Kate and Reeves’ three girls, so that Reeves, now a teacher and soccer coach at MUHS, could make the trip.

As for Kate—now with four national titles, two as a player, two as a coach—she’s no longer the uncertain kid who flipped that coin at Deerfield in 1999. “It’s not Kate Perine, mom’s seventh grader, or Kate Perine, the MUHS sophomore, or the Middlebury College first-year,” says Erin Quinn. “It’s Kate Perine Livesay, professional coach. And I think it’s important that she went off and found her own voice, and crafted her own messages, which are really consistent with Missy’s but are authentic to who Kate is. So when she came back she was firmly standing on her own two feet.”

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