Sports

Karl Lindholm: Coach’s course puts sports and its lessons in context

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE BASEBALL Coach Mike Leonard
Photo courtesy of Middlebury Sports Information Department

Mike Leonard and Scott Langerman are friends — friends and colleagues. 

Together, they offered a Winter Term course at Middlebury College this January, “Sports and Society: How Sports Transcend Their Sidelines.” 

Both Mike and Scott live in the sports world. They drew on their professional experience and network of associates to present an overview of the complex interplay of sports and American Life. The course had both a pragmatic and subjective dimension. As the course description read: 

“In this class, students explore the premise that sports are much more than the games they watch on TV. . . . The lessons from sport echo throughout life, and this class will examine them first-hand.”

Mike Leonard is the very successful head coach of the Middlebury baseball team that has earned a place in the post-season in four of the five full seasons Mike has been at the college (two years were lost to the pandemic). The Panthers won the NESCAC Championship in 2022 and have participated the last two years in the NCAA tournament. 

Mike was an outstanding catcher at University of Connecticut and played professionally for four years in the Red Sox system. He has earned bachelor’s (UConn) and master’s (St. Lawrence) degrees and will be awarded an Ed.D in May from Northeastern in “Organizational Leadership Studies.” 

Scott Langerman graduated from Middlebury in 1987 and earned a law degree from Yale in 1993. He has spent more than 25 years in the sports and entertainment industries. At present, he is the founder and executive vice-president of Hall of Fame Village Media, the content arm of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

He and Vicki are the parents of two Middlebury graduates, Jack ’19.5 and Jenny ’22 (and son Tom will graduate from Vanderbilt this spring). 

Mike’s and Scott’s Winter Term course was ambitious and highly organized with four broad weekly themes (The Community of Sports; Sports as Change Agent; the Economics of Sports; the Evolution of Sports and Society). The class had a good mix of men and women (18 women and 23 men), athletes and non-athletes, various majors and classes. 

Sophia Hwang, a senior sociology major and captain of the women’s golf team, reflected on the class: “I was blown away by the care and attention both Scott and Coach Leonard brought to the classroom. It was so unpretentious and engaging. We constantly collaborated with our peers and got the opportunity to learn more about one another.”

SCOTT LANGERMAN, MIDDLEBURY College alum (1987) and parent, enjoys a moment with the class in the course he taught with Middlebury baseball coach Mike Leonard in January’s Winter Term.

Sophomore Meg Simon, an economics major and member of the women’s ice hockey team, was “inspired” by the visitors to the class and “the diverse array of careers in the sports world beyond those involving coaching and playing.” 

Mike was pleased with the way the course went. “There were opportunities for good discussion. Our intent was to form and foster relationships within the class, to help students connect with one another.”

The friendship between Mike and Scott (and his family) is deep and obvious when you observe their interaction. It goes back to when Scott’s son Jack was on the baseball team at Middlebury and Mike was his coach.

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE BASEBALL Coach Mike Leonard is busy on the field and in the classroom. Leonard taught a class this Winter Term at the College “Sports and Society: How Sports Transcend Their Sidelines.”

Jack had made the team as a first-year under previous coach Bob Smith, but his prospects for playing were not so bright the next year under the new coach, Mike Leonard. Jack was an undersized first baseman and there was competition at his position. 

Mike appreciated Jack’s exuberance, his love for baseball, and his natural way with people, so he asked him to remain on the team in a support role. In that role, Jack became crucial: in time Mike named him Director of Baseball Operations. 

“Jack was uniquely gifted at making people feel connected,” Mike said. “His strengths were building culture and relationships. He was an integral part of the program. He did everything! He’d hit grounders and pitch BP; he’d look at film, and scout opponents, collect data during games; he’d show recruits the campus.” 

Jack graduated with a degree in American Studies in January 2020, skiing down the mountain in cap and gown at the Snow Bowl with his classmates. He settled in Boston and worked in a marketing firm there. 

Just a year after leaving Middlebury, Jack died in a tragic accident. 

JACK LANGERMAN, WHO graduated from Middlebury College in February 2020 was the Director of Baseball Operations for Middlebury Coach Mike Leonard as a student.

In her letter to the Middlebury College community, President Patton cited Jack’s advisor in American Studies, Michael Newbury, who said, “Jack’s unguardedness made it easy for you to feel that you knew him well . . . that feeling of openness extended into the classroom where his musings had only good effects on the dialogue he was a part of.”

Coach Leonard offered, “Our program would not be what it is today without Jack’s influence. He had an ability to bring people together.” 

Scott said that it was particularly satisfying to teach the Winter Term course with Mike as “it was a way to connect with Jack by being with one of his role models. Mike was a wonderful influence on him. And it was a wonderful month for Vicki and me — the happiest month we’ve spent in a long time.” 

On a personal note, Jack was a student of mine in a Winter Term class on baseball’s Negro Leagues in 2017, his sophomore year. We maintained a relationship after that, meeting for coffee or lunch and animated baseball talk. 

That class in 2017 was in the same classroom, coincidentally, where Jack’s dad and his coach met their class this year — and where his sister Jenny, who now works for Fenway Sports Group (FSG), made a presentation to the class.

Scott and Mike both felt Jack’s presence in their class: “He was with us.”

Student Meg Simon felt that connection too. “Although I never had a chance to meet Jack,” she wrote, “I feel connected to him though Mr. Langerman and Coach Leonard.

“I feel inspired to navigate our world with kindness and a smile — like Jack Langerman.”

—————

Karl Lindholm Ph.D is the Emeritus Dean of Advising and Assistant Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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