BEACON FALLS — Jeff Lownds started his own coaching career, and has made the most of his opportunities.
It all began in 1981 at Long River Middle School in Prospect when Lownds, who still teaches sixth-grade at the school, pushed to start a cross country program. Then-Region 16 Superintendent of Schools John Proctor gave the go-ahead for Lownds and another would-be coach to start a team.
It was a modest start, to say the least.
“He said, ‘I can’t pay you, but maybe I can get you some shirts,’” said Lownds as he recalled his conversation with Proctor over 34 years ago. “I think the following year he found a way to get us 150 bucks.”
Shortly after forming a squad, the Long River team went on to win a meet in West Hartford. That jumpstarted a coaching career for Lownds that eventually led him to Woodland Regional High School and a successful run of Naugatuck Valley League titles.
His efforts were acknowledged recently by his peers. Lownds was named Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association last month.
When his named was called at the Aqua Turf in Southington, a room full of peers, coworkers, student-athletes, family and friends stood and applauded.
“As I walked up to the front of the room, I saw a couple of people I knew and they congratulated me, and it really dawned on me that this was pretty special,” Lownds said.
Lownds currently has 295 career cross country coaching wins at Woodland, and 193 track victories, along with numerous NVL titles in cross country and track.
Make no mistake, Lownds knows it has been a team effort every step of the way. He makes that point very clear.
“This was an award for Woodland High School,” Lownds said. “I just happened to win it.”
Lownds expressed appreciation to all of his coworkers at Woodland, especially fellow coaches Tim Shea, Adam Schultz, Chris Misuraca, and former coach Ross Cooper, and athletics assistant Jill Spiwak. It wouldn’t be possible without all the students, Lownds added.
After starting at Long River, Lownds eventually earned other coaching opportunities at Holy Cross in Waterbury (1993) and Southington High School (1997-2001) — both in lacrosse.
Lownds also said he never forgot his Danbury-area roots, and the experience he gained there.
When Woodland opened in 2001, Lownds was a natural fit and accepted the chance to start up another program and help bring success to a new school. Last month, he was honored for it.
“It’s been a nice ride,” Lownds said. “If you had asked me back in 1981 at Long River if I’d be receiving this award, I would have told you that you were nuts. I had no aspiration for that.”
But after years of hard work with dedicated students and fellow coaches, it happened.