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Remembering Coach Butt, an international figure

September 21, 2018

Courtesy of Fred Field.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Former coach and Hall of Honor recipient Charlie Butt passed away last Friday. His fascinating life will be remembered by generations of Polar Bears.

Legendary soccer and swimming coach Charlie Butt passed away last Friday at the age of 93. Butt dedicated decades of his life to serving the Bowdoin Athletic Department—coaching men’s swimming for 39 years, women’s swimming for the first 24 years of the program’s existence and men’s soccer for 23 years, leading all three teams to numerous titles, records and dominant seasons. Even in his retirement, Butt continued to have a presence in Bowdoin’s athletic community as an assistant coach for the women’s squash team and champion squash player himself. He received many accolades for his talent and distinguished career and was inducted into the Bowdoin Athletic Hall of Honor in 2003. Yet his notable achievements aren’t limited to Bowdoin athletics. A further biography of his life can be read in both his Hall of Honor entry and a statement released by President Clayton Rose. The article below was published in the Orient on September 28, 1979 and begins to touch on the longtime coach’s fascinating and impressive life.

Anjulee Bhalla contributed to this report.


The year was 1951, and the Chinese mainland had been in the control of the communists for approximately two years when a young man, who had been a star player on the Chinese National Basketball team as well as a national swimming champion, decided to seek the freedom of the Western world. Following a pre-engineered (and pre-paid) plan, the young Shanghai athlete slipped aboard a British ship which took him to Hong Kong. From there he eventually made it to the United States where he enrolled at Springfield College in order to pursue his ambition of becoming an athletic coach.

The above story may sound like a script for a television show but it is really a brief description of the life of Bowdoin’s swimming and soccer coach Charlie Butt. Coach Butt, who also happens to be one of the top members of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was serving as the chairman of the swimming events at the World University Games in Mexico City when he met a former teammate of his, presently a coach for the Chinese Communist team. It took over 18 years and some considerable political changes to make this reunion possible, and as things now appear the next one will come much sooner.

The stories each man exchanged concerning their hardships during the Japanese occupation of China drew large amounts of attention at the games. Coach Butt was both interviewed by a Chinese correspondent and made the subject of an Associated Press article. Furthermore, the coach had the chance to talk to members of the Chinese delegation concerning the possibility of his returning to China in order to put on some swimming clinics. All this attention was paid to him by the country from which he had escaped almost three decades ago.

The games themselves, according to Coach Butt, basically went as expected, the only surprises in this extremely competitive event (second only to the Olympics) being, ironically the Chinese divers. The United States did extremely well with 80 percent of all the swimming medals going to the Americans!

All of this, he noted, against the very strong Russian and West German teams.

Though it is unsure when and if Coach Butt will return to visit his homeland, it may be said that the coach did his best to bring together a part of his new life with his old heritage at the games. As he was awarding a gold medal to a girl from China he also presented an added gift of a shirt printed with the familiar letters that spell out BOWDOIN.


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One comment:

  1. Ed Grady '74 says:

    When I reflect upon my time at Bowdoin, I think of the many fabulous people who crossed my path and how fortunate I was to befriend an incredibly talented man like Charlie Butt. I can’t ever remember him not leaving me with a smile and an encouraging word. Rest in peace, my friend.

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