MIDDLEBURY — Don McIntosh has led three generations of Middlebury-area kids through exercises ranging from calisthenics to kickball.
Now, after 37 years as gym teacher serving local middle school-age students, McIntosh is ready to put down his whistle. But don’t expect him to prop up his feet in retirement, even as he approaches his 70th birthday.
“What will I do? I will probably work out more,” McIntosh, a compact and still-nimble man, said with equal parts humor and resolve on Monday during a breather between classes in the Middlebury Union Middle School gym.
“I have always been physically fit and I will stay physically fit,” he pledged, reciting a mantra that he has tried to instill in the thousands of students of all shapes, sizes and athletic abilities who have jumped, raced, stroked or kicked under his tutelage.
McIntosh began teaching physical education 46 years ago, at an elementary school in St. Louis. He had always been active and athletic — with a particular interest in swimming — and reveled in the ability to make a living at it.
He quickly learned that teaching could widen his horizons. After seven years in St. Louis, McIntosh transferred to a school in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands. But one can apparently get one’s fill of great weather and splashy shirts, so after two years in topical “paradise,” McIntosh was in the market for another venue in which to teach physical fitness techniques to kids.
He clearly recalls the day in 1975 when one of his friends at Middlebury College informed him of the middle school gym teacher vacancy. McIntosh, who since 1970 had been serving as a director of the Aloha Camp for kids in Fairlee, jumped at the opportunity to work in Vermont full-time. He was one of eight applicants for the vacancy at the junior high (MUMS didn’t formally become a middle school until years later) and was pleasantly surprised to prevail over a field that included at least three popular townies.
“I was shocked,” McIntosh said of the school’s decision to pick “the guy from the Virgin Islands.
“I don’t know how I lucked into it.”
So he replaced then-gym teacher John Doss and got to work teaching phys ed to what he still believes is a wonderful bunch of Middlebury-area kids.
“Eighty to 90 percent of the kids are just great; they want to do all of the sports … and are gung-ho,” McIntosh said. “It’s so much fun.”
While the students have remained congenial and eager, the school’s phys ed facilities and technology have changed greatly throughout the years, according to McIntosh.
When he first arrived, the junior and senior high school grades were, of course, still under the same roof on Charles Avenue. A single gym served grades 7 through 12.
During the mid-1990s, Addison Central voters agreed to renovate the high school and build a new middle school off Middle Road. So McIntosh changed venues and is proud of the MUMS gym and playing fields.
Phys ed equipment has gotten better, McIntosh said, though liability issues have forced schools like MUMS to pare back on some of the more potentially hazardous offerings, such as trampoline and the gymnastics vault.
Early in McIntosh’s career, a divider was placed through the middle of the gym to separate girls’ and boys’ activities.
“Never would the twain meet,” he recalled with a chuckle.
That all changed around 1995, when gym classes became increasingly co-ed, according to McIntosh.
As most of his colleagues know, McIntosh is not a huge fan of computer technology. He still prefers to jot down student performance information in a spiral notebook instead of in a computer.
By and large, Middlebury-area students have given their full effort — or close to it — during phys ed classes though the years, according to McIntosh. That, in turn, has inspired him to continue a relationship with Middlebury schoolchildren that began during the Ford administration.
“Middlebury is a place where people appreciate outdoor activities,” he said of his students’ proclivity for physical activity. “I think most of our kids are reasonably fit.”
As proof, he notes “quite a few” of his students have broken the seven-minute barrier for running the mile. Most can do it in 10 minutes or less.
“To me, I am teaching the most important class,” McIntosh said of phys ed. “The most important thing … is to be active, to move.”
Some of McIntosh’s students have gone on to become superlative athletes. Among them: Katie Ritter, Sarah Dalton and Don’s own son, Andy McIntosh, who was part of MUHS’s undefeated basketball team that won the Division-I state crown in 1983.
McIntosh has branched out from the MUMS gym during his tenure.
He and the late Vin Fucile started the Forth ’N Goal sports equipment store on Main Street 30 years ago. The successful business still remains, but McIntosh left the venture after a short while.
“I needed to be outdoors,” he said with a beaming smile.
He also helped establish a swim club at Middlebury College during the 1970s, which evolved into a swim team (which he also instructed). He has served stints as athletic trainer for the MUHS football team during the fall and track coach during the spring. He volunteers regularly at Special Olympics events. He has continued what has become a four-decade relationship with youth summer camps in Fairlee.
McIntosh drew statewide recognition when he took a leave of absence during the 1987-1988 academic year to walk the entire perimeter of the U.S. The Addison Independent and Middlebury students kept track of his progress thanks to newsletters he sent during his journey. An old VW camper van, driven by family, made sure he had ample supplies and shelter during stops along the long trek, which he completed a few weeks before the end of that school year.
“There was a parade through town as I walked into the gym,” he recalled, with pride.
He continues to be an active swimmer, competing in masters category swim meets throughout the world. Swimming has taken him to Australia, Sweden and other nations. He will be headed for a swim in the Charles River in Massachusetts in two weeks.
Locally, he swims with a group that calls itself the “Muffin Tops.”
So while students won’t see Don McIntosh in the MUMS gym next year, they will surely see him out and about, exercising on land and in the water. He and his wife, Carol, will go to Italy this September.
“Nobody has had a better life than I have,” McIntosh said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]