Where Success Is More Than W’s

New Oxbow Athletic Director Preaches Respect, Dedication, Hard Work

Hank VanOrman, Oxbow's new Athletic Director, stands on the athletic fields behind Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., on Dec. 6, 2013. 
Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Hank VanOrman, Oxbow's new Athletic Director, stands on the athletic fields behind Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., on Dec. 6, 2013. Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

Bradford, Vt. — Hank Van Orman was the starting center for Mount Anthony High’s undefeated championship football team in 1994 and went on to become a three-time all-conference lineman at Norwich University. While the new Oxbow Union High athletic director clearly knows what it takes to be successful on the field, he’s learned that high school sports are about so much more than winning.

“The most important thing about athletics is learning about respect, working with teammates and having a well-rounded high school experience,” said Van Orman, a Barre, Vt., native who replaced Rich Thonton in October. “It’s an opportunity to help kids evolve into young men and women. That’s more important than an undefeated season.”

Van Orman has had plenty of strong mentors to learn from since he graduated from Norwich in 2001.

A communications major who spent one semester interning at a Boston FM radio station, Van Orman ended up working for a rental car agency for his first job out of college. He soon gravitated back to athletics, and returned to Norwich as an offensive line/tight end coach under Cadets’ head coach Mike Yesalonia for three seasons.

In 2005, Van Orman migrated to the high school ranks, and became St. Johnsbury Academy’s assistant director of health and exercise instruction before taking the school’s assistant AD post in 2007. Van Orman worked under then-AD Tom Conte and, for the last two years, under former Thetford Academy AD Dave McGinn.

“They were both good people who I learned a lot from. Working for guys like that, that’s how you learn about what the really important things are in athletics,” Van Orman said. “You always have to keep the best interests of the students at heart.”

Van Orman resigned last spring, feeling a need to revaluate his career path.

“I’d been doing the same thing for quite some time, and it was a servant-type position,” he said.

“I just had to step back and make sure (athletics administration) was what I wanted to continue to pursue.”

Van Orman is thrilled to be at Oxbow, where he began in late October after the school’s months-long search to replace Thornton. A former college basketball coach who spent five years in Bradford, Thornton announced his resignation over the summer to become an assistant boys basketball coach and substitute teacher at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Mass.

Van Orman, who will also oversee junior high athletics, is still in the process of becoming familiar with the community. Oxbow features 13 varsity teams and numerous club sports to serve a school enrollment of just under 300, about one-third the size of St. Johnsbury.

“The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make,” Van Orman said, “is not so much the size of the school, but getting to know the community, the students, faculty and staff, and all of the traditions instilled in the various programs. Those things are important to preserve.

“One thing I’ve already noticed is that there are a lot of people in this community who care about extracurricular activities as a whole, who get involved and want to help out. For a smaller school, we have a lot of great field space and that’s a huge benefit.”

The success of Oxbow athletics has generally been on an upward tick over the last two years, with state championships in girls basketball and softball.

The Olympians’ seven-year old varsity football team reached the D-III playoffs for the second time last fall, the baseball team has been to the semifinals twice since 2010 and its track and field and bowling teams have recently enjoyed increased participation.

“There are great people in this community with good ideas and structure,” Van Orman said. “It helps a lot to have people who want to improve things.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.