It’s a little past 5 p.m. on a Tuesday in Farley Field House, and all around, student athletes are running. Scattered about on the sidelines are three men, holding stopwatches. One of them, Jerry LeVasseur, shouts out lap times as two runners go by. LeVasseur and the two others—Steve Turner and John Kelsey, both retired professors—are all part of a large volunteer contingent that the track and field team’s Head Coach, Peter Slovenski, calls upon to help officiate track meets. At any given meet, there could be more than 30 volunteers officiating. Responsibilities for the volunteers include operating the Lynx Timing systems, marking where throws land for the field events, and tallying scores for each team.
Track volunteers have a long history at Bowdoin. The system began decades ago, according to Slovenski, when Bowdoin professors, alumni and service members from the now-defunct Naval Air Station Brunswick volunteered to help run the meets. In the 1970s, when fewer professors volunteered, the Athletics Department began offering season tickets to hockey games in exchange for help.
“This attracted a lot of volunteers from Bath Iron Works, who loved Bowdoin hockey,” wrote Slovenski in an email to the Orient.
Today, there are 30 or so regulars who come help at almost every meet and many practices. A few are Bowdoin alumni, but most—including the three at Tuesday’s practice—don’t have particularly strong ties to Bowdoin.
LeVasseur used to be an accountant in Connecticut. Turner taught math at Babson. Kelsey taught psychology at Bates. Though all three currently live in Brunswick and have been involved with competitive running, they came to be volunteers for Bowdoin track and field for very different reasons.
LeVasseur, who officiates races, moved to Brunswick 16 years ago to get away from the stressful work environment in Connecticut.
“My wife and I used to come up here [to Maine] in the summer—we just mainly like the people, and I used to race sled dogs,” said LeVasseur. “So we moved up here, and we just love it. … It’s more laid back and the people are super nice.”
He added that the idea of volunteering at Bowdoin was his own idea.
“I contacted Coach [Slovenski], and I said that I’m still running and competing. And it’s been very good to me, and I wanted to give back.”
LeVasseur has run nine marathons, including the Boston Marathon. In 2014, he was inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame. Trackside, however, he is known as “Coach Jerry.”
Turner, who serves as the head clerk at Bowdoin meets, grew up in Maine. He has a bit of history at the College: In 1969, he broke the University of Maine school record for the mile with a time of 4:18, before following up in the same year with a 4:16, according to Slovenski.
“Well, I’m an Maine-iac, and so is my wife. We moved away for my career, but my parents were still here, so we moved back to take care of them,” said Turner. “But we’ve always had an affinity for the state of Maine.”
After his parents passed, he decided to move to Brunswick and help with the track and field program because he enjoyed the college-town environment and wanted to use his track background to help students.
“I like interacting with students and, because I had the background in running, it was an easy decision.”
Turner says he was offered the role of head clerk—the person who manages the races and gives instructions about race rules before races start—out of the blue.
“I skipped around doing a couple of things, like raking traps and spotting throws, and all of a sudden Peter [Slovenski] says, ‘How’d you like to be clerk?’” Turner said. “I think it’s the toughest job, but I’m an organizer—being a math professor, it was a natural fit.”
Kelsey, an umpire, also grew up in Maine. Growing up, he was neighbors with the Slovenskis, though Peter Slovenski was a bit older than him and they didn’t know each other well. He officiated a bit at Bates after he retired, but he got involved at Bowdoin at the behest of his wife.
“My wife contacted [Slovenski]—she was looking for something for me to do, get me out of the house,” he said, laughing.
Kelsey is the least experienced among the three, having only spent three years helping with meets and practice. LeVasseur has 16 years under his belt, and Turner six. Another volunteer veteran, Dale Dorr, has been an official for over 30 years.
Even so, Kelsey is still extremely active in helping out, coming to practice two or three times a week to help time middle-distance runners.
“The best thing for me, quite frankly, is the kids. I mean, that’s the timing part. [While] officiating, you don’t really get to talk to them much,” he said. “I know [giving back] is the way Jerry [LeVasseur] frames it, but I’m not so sure I would frame it that way—I’m just having fun.”
Kelsey also mentions that Slovenski is always looking for more volunteers.
“For Peter, for any of the coaches, getting volunteers is a big assistance. And it’s hard work [for the coaches]. So it’s nice if you can get a group of people that, for whatever reason, are committed.”
And that, perhaps, is what the volunteers are all about.