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The Harvard Nordic ski team had a big problem this past fall. They were sans coach and pre-season training was coming up fast.
Captains Bob Berle and Amber Duncan were faced with the prospect of scheduling training camps, practices, races, transportation and fundraising mostly on their own for the varsity team. Berle felt that he and Duncan could handle the extended role, but he knew that it would be a strain and that the team wouldn't be able to get the same coaching that most Division II teams get.
The search was going nowhere when a third-year student at Harvard Law School named Bill Sapp stepped into the picture. Out of the blue, he volunteered to coach the team.
Getting anyone to coach the team at that point was lucky. But even Berle didn't how lucky the Crimson was.
Their new coach was the former captain of the St. Lawrence Nordic team, the best collegiate Nordic skier in the east just three years ago and had been selected to compete in the NCAA national championships three times.
Who says you can't get something for nothing?
Harvard sophomore Wendy Svatek was familiar with the other coaches around the EISA, the Division II league that Harvard competes in, and she knew that Bill Sapp would be unlike any other coach in the league.
"He's by far the best coach in the league for a bunch of reasons," Svatek said. "The two big reasons are because of his previous experience...He's so young that he's a friend at the same time and a really fun guy to be with."
Thank You, SLU
Sapp says he has tried to pass on his experiences skiing at St. Lawrence to the Crimson skiers. He found the Harvard skiers just as dedicated to training as his teammates were at Division I St. Lawrence. This was important, because he wanted to design a training program where the athletes take a major role in designing the workouts.
His coach at SLU, Paul Daly, used a similar program where the skiers do not have to ask the coach what the afternoon's workout was, since they had designed the workout. Sapp's ultimate goal in using this type of program is to teach the skiers not only so that they can coach themselves, but so that they will be able to go on and coach other skiers.
Sapp adds that the team has been blessed with captains who are very willing "to do more than just lead stretches." The responsibilities that Berle and Duncan have taken on include running practices, coordinating the team on race weekends and dealing with the athletic department.
Sapp's concern for serving others extends not only to his athletes but also to his involvement with the Law School. Imagine attending at least four practices a week and weekend races while working on over 20 cases for the Law School's Voluntary Defenders Program, which provides free defense in criminal cases, and serving on the Environmental Law Board at the Law School. He shrugs it off and says that athletics makes you use your time more efficiently.
The skiers also appreciate Sapp's commitment to academics. He turned down an opportunity to compete for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team to attend law school.
Freshman Paul Dufays says this commitment carries over to the team: "Labs, lectures, papers and exams come first, and we can make up the practices on our own later."
Beyond the term-time practices, Sapp also attended and coordinated the team's training camps over Christmas break and intersession.
Two weeks ago, when the team competed in the Division II championships, Sapp had planned to go to Washington, D.C. to see his fiancee. Usually, the Nordic team would travel to carnivals in a van rented and driven by Sapp. But no one on the Nordic team was over 21 years old and could rent it that weekend.
Sapp delayed his trip and went to the athletic department to convince them to rent a van for his skiers to get them to the championships in Putney, Vt., on time.
NOT a Club
Sapp has some fundraising events in the works for the team to make them more visible and hopefully shatter the mistaken notion that the ski team is a club sport. He also hopes that the fundraisers will be successful enough to get some roller skis for pre-season training.
Some of his other ideas for the squad include a skate-a-thon, where the skiers would be sponsored for each mile that they roller-skied, a ski clinic, a Warren Miller comedy ski film in the Science Center and a ski sale.
Sapp intends to continue coaching the team next year, even though he will be working in Washington, D.C. with the Army Corps of Engineers Honors Program doing environmental law to pay back his debt to ROTC. He hopes to coordinate the team's training over the phone and attend the carnivals on weekends.
A Stompin' We Will Go
This year's squad was strong enough this year to have three of the top 10 Division II skiers in the East and the top women's relay team, and with everyone returning next year, Harvard looks to stomp all over the competition. The Crimson also is expected to enjoy the luxury of having last year's Division II women's champion, Woden Teachout--who took the year off to ski in Sweden--and two outstanding members in the Class of '94 on next year's team.
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