Taking the lessons of team to career
Talent certainly has a lot to do with it in sports, but a well-organized and smart team will beat a team of individuals. It sounds pretty trite, but that’s the big overlap you get in a collaborative environment — which I feel right now I’m in professionally.
— Liam Quinn
SAN FRANCISCO — In 2001 the Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team won a Division II title for the first time in 32 years, capping off a 23-1 season with a 71-56 victory over Lamoille.
Among those cutting down the net after the final horn were senior co-captain Liam Quinn; his brother Sam, a sophomore who sat out most of the season with knee woes; and their father, Pete Quinn, who assisted Coach Gene LeBeau and later led both the Commodore girls’ and boys’ teams to titles before his untimely 2018 demise.
That moment remains a poignant memory for Liam Quinn, now an “academic success coach” who helps University of San Francisco students thrive in their college careers.
“You look back and you have not just the memories, but the physical mementos, the state championship plaque with the team photo on it, and you can see that everyone was there,” Quinn said.
That season and that team remain close to Quinn’s heart.
Many of the players had been together, often coached by Pete Quinn, since fourth grade.
“To have Pete be part of that, along with Gene, for the last couple years of high school was great, to come full circle and reach that ultimate goal,” Quinn said.
LeBeau remembers Quinn as a large part of the team’s success: an unselfish point guard capable of scoring in bursts, hitting three pointers and dunking; a relentless defender; and a role model who helped lead a focused group.
“I picture him more as the quiet leader. He wasn’t vocal, but if he needed to be he was. He would work so hard,” LeBeau said. “That whole group that came up. It was probably the best group of kids I ever had to coach.”
LeBeau added, “He was never afraid to take the ball. He wanted the ball. And on more than one occasion he turned a couple of our games around. He would get on a streak and go.”
As large as that winter looms in Quinn’s memory, it’s only a small part of his life in sports. At VUHS Quinn also played soccer and baseball, in the spring and summer he played AAU basketball, and in the summer there was youth and then American Legion baseball.
Despite the hoop title, Quinn said baseball is his favorite sport.
“It’s intense in a totally different way. You’ve got to think about all the different possible outcomes on every play. There’s so much downtime between pitches, innings, at-bats to process everything,” he said. “There’s just something about the game that always resonated with me, where I always enjoyed getting out on a baseball field.”
Quinn played baseball at Middlebury College, which he said was a late choice. He had considered schools as far away as California and visited colleges in Ohio, New York and New England.
At first he had felt Middlebury was too “close to home and a little too familiar,” but when he decided to give it a look he was sold.
“The academics felt like a real good fit. I really liked the campus culture. It felt like a real good place academically and socially,” he said. “The other part was athletics. It seemed like a good fit.”
But basketball did not work out there: Quinn couldn’t crack the guard rotation, possibly in part because of a freshman case of mononucleosis. Still, he made the baseball team and quickly earned a bit of playing time, and he believes it worked out for the best.
“It was a little bit sad to just abruptly have a basketball career stop,” Quinn said. “But I really enjoyed my four years at Middlebury playing baseball. And looking back on it, I maybe would not have been able to enjoy what the rest of the college had to offer if I was full-on, in-season year-round.”
A high school shortstop, he volunteered for the outfield, seeing it as a route to playing time. He remembers his first college game, a spring trip contest in Florida.
“My first-ever game in right field was my first college game,” he said. “And I think I had nine putouts in right field. When have you ever seen nine balls hit to right field in one game? That was a trial by fire.”
As a junior and senior Quinn worked into the team’s outfield rotation and hit better than .300, ending his formal athletic career on a satisfying high note.
As a senior he also began dating Dana Isaac, who in 2014 became Dana Isaac Quinn. The couple is expecting their second child in March.
Academically Quinn settled on American Civilization, an interdisciplinary major he enjoyed because it combined history, American literature and English.
Upon graduation, “I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, and that’s the blessing and the curse of a liberal arts education.”
He then took a live-in post at Middlebury College as a commons residential supervisor, working with undergraduate counselors and advisors.
Quinn said that job gave him time to think about his next steps in an “interesting and dynamic setting, working with college students, and getting a little more training in the area of not just residential life, but also starting to see about administration in higher ed.”
After that year he and a college friend drove cross-country to Seattle, with no work lined up.
But he had an idea: His career social-worker parents said if he needed a job and wanted to gain good experience he could probably find work in a residential treatment center.
He took that advice and said he did “basically entry-level social work for about three years in Seattle for a residential treatment center.”
That meant helping “six-to-13-year-olds in an acute stabilization program,” he said, children who had suffered “physical or sexual abuse, neglect, been taken from their familial placements or foster placements” or had come straight from psychiatric care.
Quinn was on a team that tried to create “a stable and safe environment for kids to come out of their shell a little bit” to prepare for longer-term placements or adoption.
Quinn found those to be valuable years, during which he also coached high-level youth baseball.
“It was excellent training and experience, but it also pushed me away a little bit from the clinical side of things,” he said, and more into a focus on students.
Thus his next step was a two-year master’s program at the University of San Francisco (USF) in counseling psychology, with a school counseling focus, starting in 2009. During those years he also coached high school baseball.
That move also cemented his relationship with Isaac, a San Francisco resident attending law school there; she is now a civil rights attorney. They had been keeping their bond alive on a long-distance basis.
In 2011 Quinn began three years of work for the Making Waves Education Program in San Francisco, counseling students from underprivileged families who had never seen members go onto college.
The program supported and tutored pupils, from elementary school through high school, and then supplied financial aid for to those who successfully completed high school. Quinn’s role was to work with high school seniors with their college choice and application process.
Changes in the Making Waves program, including the creation of the program’s own charter school, led in 2014 to Quinn’s latest career move.
He found and was hired for an opening in a “newer modeling of undergraduate advising and counseling” as an academic success coach at USF, his current job, working with undergraduate students.
Quinn said he handles “everything except the specifics of (academic) advising.” He helps students with emergencies or scheduling conflicts that interfere with performance or attendance, and advises them how to advocate with professors or process paperwork.
And he helps them handle mental health issues: “I’ll have discussions with them about that, non-clinical discussions, but my background helps a lot,” often referring them to available resources.
The school of 7,500 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students does not provide housing or entertainment for most of its undergraduates, and Quinn said they can become isolated or overwhelmed in an urban environment like San Francisco.
“A lot of times it’s just, ‘I’m not finding my purpose here,’ or ‘I’m not sure this major is right for me,’ and we’ll talk about what’s going on in that regard, maybe finding them some resources about setting some goals and expectations for themselves, getting them involved with campus clubs or affinity groups if they’re feeling isolated,” he said.
Quinn’s caseload is about 500 students per academic year, between 110 and 120 of whom are athletes.
“The athletes come with their own set of expectations that a typical student doesn’t have to deal with. Those would be things like providing official travel excuse letters to disseminate to their professors … for NCAA travel,” Quinn said. “I have to have a working knowledge of NCAA Division I compliance as far as eligibility.”
In all his workplaces Quinn said a lesson has carried over from his years of organized sports, that teamwork often means more than individual ability when it comes to success.
“Talent certainly has a lot to do with it in sports, but a well-organized and smart team will beat a team of individuals. It sounds pretty trite, but that’s the big overlap you get in a collaborative environment — which I feel right now I’m in professionally,” he said.
“I really enjoy the people I work with. People are not shy about asking for input or defensive about being given another perspective or being asked to challenge their assumptions. I think it’s the same thing you get on the court, if we’re talking about basketball. You can have an equally talented team. But if you have personalities that are not willing to hear criticism or be coached, you’re never going to be successful.”
Eventually Quinn hopes to move on and become a dean of students at the college level, where he can combine all the elements of his career experience.
Wherever and whenever that happens, he will look for a good team to join.
“I think you learn, if you’re going to be someone growing up playing sports, if you’re going to be successful you have to be a member of a team. Whether you’re a star or whether you’re a role player, just to understand how to do your job really well, and how to make others’ jobs easier as well,” Quinn said.
“And not just easier, but more fun. Because that’s the other piece of it. I don’t think I’d last at a job that wasn’t fun even if I was good at it. I’d look for something else.”
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