When Nancy Boutilier trades in a basketball, a softball, a lacrosse stick and an oar for a diploma today, she'll graduate as the first four-sport letter-winner in recent Harvard history.
And the funny thing is, the Northborough, Mass, native will graduate without a letter in the sport she grew up on.
A nationally ranked junior tennis player, Boutilier shunned the collegiate racquet ranks and headed instead for the world of inside drives, layups and bank shots. And there, on the courts of the Indoor Athletic Building and Briggs Athletic Center, the 5-ft., 6-in shooting guard spent four years becoming a very good basketball player on a not-so-very-good basketball team.
"I just felt team sports could always offer more," Boutilier explains of her decision to give up competitive tennis and concentrate on competitive basketball.
In her spare time, the athlete many consider the finest all-around graduating senior took to the lacrosse field (freshman year), softball field (sophomore year) and the Charles River in a Radcliffe crew shell (junior year) for one-year stints in sports in which she'd never participated before.
That all accounts for four varsity sports and accounts for what Boutilier calls four different experiences.
Yet, none was as frustrating as the experience of four years on one of Harvard's most unsuccessful athletic squads. In her four years at Harvard--Boutilier took one off in the middle to-teach physical education and camp in the Rockies--the women's basketball team compiled a 29-68 overall record. And while serving as Co-Captain of this year's squad, Boutilier suffered as the Crimson recorded a 3-22 mark--the worst in the squad's history.
"Nancy happened to be here during a building period," says second-year Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith. "But it's growing, and she can take some of the credit for that."
Perhaps in the end, Boutilier says, that's what she'll remember most about her seasons out of the sun and out of the spotlight of a championship team.
"Every day was a real challenge," she says of her years on the basketball court. "To say 'I'm going to keep my head up' was the hardest thing to do."
And when she heads for a teaching and coaching job at Phillips Academy, Andover next year. Boutilier will take with her the Harvard single-season scoring record (318 points), the all-time free throw percentage record (79 percent), the single-season record for field goals made (145), field goals attempted (352) and free throw percentage (83.1 percent).
The records are nice. Boutilier admits, but the people are what made it all bearable.
"The rewarding moments weren't always after wins," she says now. "They were sometimes after losses, when the people told you they really appreciated the effort."