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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
18 years ago Harvard softball coach Jenny Allard found her success on the other side of the bench. From 1987-90, Allard played for the University of Michigan, earning numerous honors along the way. Last month, one of the Crimson’s most established coaches was recognized for her achievements as one of six former athletes inducted into the Michigan Hall of Honor.
Allard’s fellow inductees include tennis player Michael Leach, swimmer Ann Colloton, synchronized swimmer Ruth Pickett Thompson, and football players Bill Hewitt and Desmond Howard. Hewitt competed professionally for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, and entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Howard, currently an ESPN college football analyst, won the Heisman Trophy in 1991 and went on to play for five NFL teams over a 10 year period.
Allard’s impressive athletic record places her among the best. As a valuable utility player, Allard made her home at third for the first half of her Wolverine career where she earned seemingly every honor short of the Heisman.
Quick to face a challenge, the eager third baseman stepped up offensively her freshman year, knocking in a team-high 26 runs. The same season she hit .331, the second best average on the squad. The following two springs Allard again dominated at the plate, safely hitting for the highest percentage on the Michigan team.
A four-time All-Big Ten player, Allard’s greatest accomplishments came in her junior year, when she took the mound to fill a pitching vacancy. Without asking questions, she quickly switched gears, proving herself to be a dynamic force for the Wolverine defense.
“One of the things I developed as a student-athlete and further in my life is just to take advantage of every opportunity,” Allard says. “So when I got the opportunity to pitch my junior year, I just did my best.”
As it turned out, her best was quite good. Before her recent induction, Allard’s accomplishments hardly went unnoticed.
In 1989, the year she transitioned to pitcher, Allard was singled out as the team’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Pitcher. Allard was also selected as a Division I All-American and named the Big Ten Player of the Year.
The list goes on, as the Irvine, Calif. native achieved Academic All-Big Ten honors and was nominated for the Honda Broderick Cup, a sports award for female collegiate athletes who demonstrate excellent athletic talent, leadership skills, academic distinction, and community participation. Additionally, Allard earned Michigan’s Conference Medal of Honor, an accolade for the university’s highest-achieving female student-athlete.
Two years after her graduation in 1990, Allard’s successes continued as she was chosen to the Big Ten All-Decade Team. Leaving behind an impressive legacy, she finished her career in the top four all-time for Wolverine performances in 15 pitching and hitting categories.
Nearly 20 years later, Allard’s athletic spirit and drive to capitalize on opportunities is still noticeably present, especially to her players.
“Coach is a competitor,” says pitcher and captain Shelly Madick. “I think she is really, really tough. She conveys that toughness to all of us and I think it is a sign that we all sort of rise to the occasion as well.”
Able to relate to both the pitchers and fielders, Allard’s years playing for the maize and blue trained her well to be a coach.
“I was very touched by the award,” Allard says. “I think it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own experience as a student athlete…what I took from that time in my life and what I hope my team takes from their own experience—in learning lessons, working together and getting tough.”
Coaching 33 first-team, 30 second-team, and 24 honorable mention All-Ivy selections, Allard has trained two Rookies of the Year, three Pitchers of the year—including Madick—and four Players of the Year.
With a career Ivy League record of 127-49, it is no coincidence that Harvard’s three NCAA berths, four 30-win seasons, and four Ivy Championship titles all fall under Allard’s tenure. This spring, with promising pitching, developing offense, and the coach’s go-get-‘em attitude, another league title may be in store for the Wolverine legend’s 13th season with the Crimson.
“I think our call this year is going to be to step up into roles that we are not necessarily comfortable stepping into, or haven’t in seasons past,” Madick says. “Coach exemplifies that.”
“I remember the great wins and I remember the tough losses,” Allard adds. “I think that it shapes who are you and I am very thankful to Michigan for the opportunity to go there and obviously for the award. It was great.”
—Staff Writer Kara T. Kelley can be reached at email@example.com
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