Whether one of his former students goes on to achieve collegiate excellence, or simply finds a passion in hiking Sleeping Giant, Chris Wallack is just happy to have been there along the way.
Chris has been the Athletic Director and a physical education teacher at the Madison Country School since 1987. A three-sport star in his playing days at Hand in the mid-70s, Chris has turned a passion for sports into a successful career. Afforded the opportunity of working for a private school, Chris has dedicated his career to bringing every student a physical activity they will enjoy while at the school.
"People say to me all the time, 'you must really be proud,'" says Chris. "I'm really happy for those kids [who go on to play college sports] but also just as happy for the kids who didn't want to do much more than play on their high school team, or the kid who just wants to go hiking every week, because all those people got what they wanted out of the country school. I wouldn't toot my horn at all, I just think it is really neat that I helped them a little bit. Most of those kids who go on to play in college play because they wanted to do it."
"We afford opportunities to every kid. If we have more kids than we need on one team we just make another team," adds Chris. "It seems to help the kids who aren't great athletes to get the joy of a little bit of competition that might not be there if they go to Polson. That fuels the interest and fire in me. I always have something for a kid, something for them to do."
Though he won't take credit for the eventual athletic success of many of his students, it is worth noting. Choate senior Isabel Clements recently signed to play Division I soccer at Lehigh University. Clements didn't start playing soccer until the 5th grade when Chris convinced her she had the talent to do so. Clements's classmate and Hand senior Jack Crampton will pursue a college basketball career at Division III Colby College next fall.
Other former Madison Country School athletes to reach high collegiate levels are Nate Roy, who now plays lacrosse at Hofstra; Kat Lauer, who is a member of the crew team at UCLA; and Chris' own daughter Kerry, who plays Division I college basketball at the University of Rhode Island. Marissa Irwin plays lacrosse at Boston College and Graeme Clements is a member of the crew team at Stanford. These are impressive numbers considering the average graduating class has 26 students.
"Nobody really knows when the kids are in upper elementary school for sure that these kids are destined for say, a college program," Chris says. "You don't really know that. But what you do sense is they are really into what they do. You want to foster that, ratchet it up, make it fun, and interesting."
Chris believes his enthusiasm and joy for athletics came from a positive experience in his own gym class.
"There were a lot of people in my day in the 60s and 70s who didn't have a good experience in gym classes," he says. "I was one of those people who had a really good experience and a really good teacher who made things come alive."
Chris now hopes he can make gym come alive for his students. As does every teacher at the Madison Country School, Chris gets a lot of insight into what his students want to get out of physical education through the school's mentoring program.
"The country school is one big faculty of coaches," Chris says.
Chris mentors six to eight kids from the time they are in 5th grade to when they leave the country school after 8th grade.
"I was interested in making Madison Country School into a decent program," he says. "There were no programs when I started and there are now 19 teams. In 1990, we started boys' and girls' lacrosse and it has branched off since then. Whatever I can figure out there is going to be a little bit of niche for, I'll try to put it together. One of the things I'm most proud of is when a student's best sport at the time wasn't the sport they ended up playing in high school or college. I never cut anybody, there was competition, but I kept people alive in seeking out more things to do."
Outside of work, Chris also dedicates much of his free time to coaching. Chris has coached everything from youth soccer to the Connecticut Gold AAU basketball program, which currently his twin sons, Hand sophomores Matt and Ryan, play for.
"It pretty much seems to be sports are 24-7 between school and my own kids," says Chris. "I've taken part in about every rec activity in town, little league, travel basketball, travel soccer. If I haven't coached it, I try to do my best to give the opportunity to other folks."