Following the 1997 fall athletic season, Proctor faced a decision: would they find someone to revitalize a struggling football program or would they simply move away from the sport that had been a part of Proctor’s history for more than 90 years. Proctor’s leadership decided to choose the former and began a search for its next coach.
Then Athletic Director, and current Dean of Faculty, Karl Methven reflects on the hiring process for a new football coach, “At the time we were looking for a football coach, calling, looking all over and networking to find the right fit. It was Norm Walker, the legendary Holderness coach and educator, who called me to say he believed the best person for the job was his assistant coach, Tom Eccleston. Our arch rival understood the importance of this hire for us, and was willing to part with a key member of their community in order to ensure Proctor football would once again thrive. That is what high school sports should be about, bringing out the best in the competition, and that was what Tom was about both with his teams and with his students.”
Tom Eccleston and his wife, Bev, arrived on campus in the summer of 1997, moving into Davis House and beginning a seven year, high impact, stop at the end of their careers in education that would leave a lasting impact on the Proctor community in the classroom, on athletic teams, in the organization of the athletic office, and in our belief about how to best hold seemingly contradictory approaches to educating adolescents: rigor and support, accountability and love, high expectations and compassion.
A 1962 graduate of Bowdoin College, Tom began his teaching and coaching career at Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Rhode Island where he spent 20 years on the sidelines of the varsity football, hockey, and baseball teams, including a 1975 Rhode Island Super Bowl win. Following four years at the Hill School where he served as Assistant Dean of Students and hockey coach, Tom and Bev headed to Holderness School where they worked for a decade. During that time, Tom was elected into the Rhode Island Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
At each of his professional stops, Tom dedicated his career to teaching and coaching young people. He brought with him to Proctor an appreciation for structure, accountability, and an outside perspective that was much needed at the time. He believed deeply in providing students, especially the 9th graders with whom he loved to work, both firmness and compassion that set clear expectations for students. In his firm style of teaching, he was telling students that he believed in what they could accomplish, even if they did not yet believe in themselves. He carried that same approach from the classroom over to the athletic fields during his time at Proctor (1997-2004). Karl Methven reflects, “Why would Tom uproot himself from an established role in a school whose more formal culture was well-suited to his personality for the informality of Proctor? Maybe it was his belief in the value of sports for boys, in football, in seeing a need and loving a challenge. Tom had an unbelievable ability to focus on the kids and their experience. He believed in kids, in some ways, more than we did at that time. He unabashedly pushed us to ask kids to do more. He set high expectations for our students, and then helped them get there, often by teaching fundamentals and setting the foundation. While Tom’s career at Proctor spanned just seven years, his impact on our culture and our community was significant and we are a better school because he chose to invest deeply in this community and our kids.”
Head Football Coach Ben Rulli reflects on Eccleston’s impact on Proctor Football, “I had the pleasure of meeting Coach Eccelston when I first arrived in the fall of 2007. Prior to our meeting, I learned Coach's history at Proctor and how he saved the football program. When Coach began teaching and coaching at Proctor, the football program was on the brink of extinction. When the boys returned from Wilderness Orientation his first year, a written letter was waiting for them on their bed from Coach imploring them to play football. Thankfully, Coach was up to the task of reviving Proctor football and setting a course of its storied success some 20 years later.” Rulli adds, “Coach Eccelston's work at Proctor laid the foundation for transforming the lives of hundreds of football players, many of whom he would never even meet. There is nothing more powerful as an educator than knowing that you left a legacy of impacting the lives of others. Throughout his career, Coach led a life for others and, most of all, helped boys navigate their teenage years with lasting lessons they carried through their adult lives. From one coach to another––thank you, Coach, for being an inspiration to us all.”
A service celebrating Tom's life will be held on Wednesday, October 12th at 4:00 PM, with calling hours from 2:00-4:00 PM, at Rivet Funeral Home in Merrimack. Read Tom's obituary here.