“I would like to think I left the place better than I found it.”
Those were the words that began and ended a discussion with Bill Quirk a few weeks before his retirement this spring. He sat, expressionless, peeling an orange, reticent to talk of his forty-two year career in past-tense or how it affected him personally. There was no shortage of stories about kids, teams, and creative solutions, where he preferred to keep the focus.
Since arriving at Hun in 1980, Mr. Quirk has taught health, physical education, and drivers education; he also served as resident life director, certified athletic trainer, and CDL coordinator. As co-athletic director alongside Tracey Arndt, he helped to oversee fifty-four teams across four levels of competition. He was a member of the School’s Administrative Team and Curriculum Committee, and served as an administrator on duty for resident life.
In a letter to the Hun community this spring, Head of School Jon Brougham said, “I sometimes hear people describe athletics as ‘the beating heart of Hun’ and no one deserves more credit than Mr. Quirk for keeping that tradition alive.”
Through the years, Mr. Quirk estimates that he coached nearly every sport Hun offers, whether by necessity or interest. He acknowledges an affinity for softball and football, the softball Spring Break trips and football rituals are among his most cherished traditions. His proudest coaching moments, however, belong to the 1994 and 1995 girls’ lightweight crew boats.
When recounting the story, he describes a dejected and sluggish team that he stepped in to coach when his instincts compelled him. He is the first to admit that he knew absolutely nothing about rowing, but he knew how to connect, heal, and motivate. The key ingredients to his approach were simply acceptance and encouragement. “I just wanted them to know that it could be fun again,” he said.
It turns out that was exactly what they needed at the time. Christina Krauthamer ’95 recalled the boat’s now-legendary transformation during Alumni Weekend 2022. “Our shared purpose and passion to train and win was fueled and sustained by the respect, cooperation, patience, and love, not just for the love of the sport but for each other and for our devoted coach. We were a boat of five and a family of six, and it was a singular experience.”
“That first season we just focused on health and having fun,” said Mr. Quirk. And it worked, spectacularly. The boat went from finishing last place in nearly every race to earning second place in the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in 1994 and a National Championship in 1995.
All five women were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame this spring by their former coach. “They became the best boat that The Hun School has ever seen,” said Mr. Quirk, proudly.
Mr. Quirk is adamant however, that it wasn’t about the championship; it never is. “I wake up each day, just wanting every student athlete to have the best experience they can and hopefully learn something about themselves and about life. Athletics has a unique way of motivating kids. You can leverage that to teach character, resilience.”
After forty-two years at the helm of a nationally-recognized athletic program, Mr. Quirk can be surprisingly blasé about wins and losses, even the people and moments that have become Hun athletic lore – the students that went pro right out of high school, recruits chased relentlessly by famous coaches and national media outlets, unlikely Olympians, and famously undefeated seasons. But, ask him about a particular kid and how they grew up on his fields, and that’s when you see the twinkle in his eye.
Whether he is recalling a student who learned how to lead her team or another who learned that his family name carried no weight when a rule had been broken, it’s the individual student’s experience and in turn, their commitment to the team that elicits his pride. He sums it up by saying, “Don’t tell me how good you are. It’s the name on the front of the jersey that matters the most.”
Mike Axelrod, Class of 1989, confirms that Mr. Quirk was a mentor first and a coach second. “Driving around in the 'Raider One' golf cart, Mr. Quirk seemed to always find a student in need - sometimes comforting, sometimes encouraging, sometimes pushing, but always inspiring,” he writes. “Karl Menninger said, ‘What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.’ Above all else, Mr. Quick is a teacher and a … fine one at that.”
Mr. Quirk is often remembered for his tough love, but also his enterprising frugality. In his determination to make sure his teams and coaches always had what they needed in a school that once had lean years, Mr. Quirk had some legendary practices. If you lost a sneaker and it made its way to the Lost and Found, he was happy to sell it back to you for $1.00.
“If the budget was tight and we needed new uniforms, one way or another, I figured it out.” said Mr. Quirk. He is referring to the many ways he learned to raise money for his teams, from opening a concession stand to renting out fields and spaces. “I started selling hoagies in the dorm at night for $0.50, then renting the gym out, before I knew it there was enough money to buy new bleachers, fitness equipment, etc. The weight room used to be a closet.”
When the uniforms began to show wear, he bought a sewing machine and taught himself how to sew so that he could make minor uniform repairs. “It still comes in handy.”
Much like his budgeting, he was always open to new sports ideas. He’s added countless programs over the years from Middle School dance to Upper School squash. “If there was enough interest, I would try anything. That’s how we wound up with most new sports. A student asked, brought a few friends, and we were off.”
“The School has never held me back. They always trusted me to do the best that I could and I did.”
What will he miss most? “I’ll miss the kids, watching them grow. They keep you young. I love Alumni Reunions, the weddings, and being asked to Godfather alumni kids. I love the perspective kids gain once they have been out in the world for a few years. Athletics will sometimes play a part in that, but often it’s not until years later that they really see it.”
About his own career, he said only this to colleagues at a retirement lunch, “My father always said, ‘If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Well, I’m here forty-two years. What does that tell you? For some, the grass is always greener. I say this: our grass is very green and it has deep roots. It will grow if you’re willing to water it and care for it.”
In retirement, Mr. and Mrs. Quirk are looking forward to traveling and spending more time with their children, Pat ’02 and Bill ’99, their grandchildren and extended families, in Mercer County and in Ocean City. Mr. Quirk will continue to support Mrs. Quirk on the softball field and will do some work with the Advancement Department, naturally, as a fundraiser.
Alumnus Emir Davis ’04 said, “My last football game during my senior year was one of my best. At the end, the head coach rewarded me with the game ball. Overcome with emotions upon realizing that this would be the final time I played with my teammates, I cried uncontrollably. I vividly remember a burly, firm arm that came across the back of my shoulders and pulled me in close. I heard a voice mutter, “You did good, Davis”. I looked up and saw Mr. Quirk. I buried my head into his shoulder and [wept.]”
From generations of former Raiders, to the man who taught us the meaning of team:
“You did good, Mr. Quirk.”