This summer, MCDS welcomed Anne Gravel to the role of athletic director. Most recently a teacher, coach, and instructional leader at Middleton High School, Anne is excited to rejoin the world of independent schools. The native New Yorker brings thirty years’ experience working as a teacher and mentor to students and athletes alike to her new position.
Onward: What drew you to MCDS?
Anne Gravel: I grew up going to independent schools back in New York, and there’s just something really wonderful and engaging, safe but yet challenging, about a small independent school. I’ve always been interested in returning to those roots. I moved here from New York after 21 years teaching and coaching in independent schools there, and I’ve been at Middleton for nine years. I’ve loved my work in a big public school, but I think I can offer more to MCDS to make the greatest impact. I already get a sense that I’m working with invested stakeholders: families, students, staff, administrators, and alumni who want to and can influence the learning environment in positive, significant ways. I hope we can thread MCDS athletics to become a sought-after and valued piece of the overall MCDS experience for the entire community.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal background in athletics?
Through middle school and high school, I was a multi-sport athlete. I was in volleyball, basketball, softball, and track. I went on to college to play volleyball, basketball, and softball. I pursued volleyball and basketball the furthest, and I continued playing those competitively through college and even post-college. Then, luckily, in one of my first teaching positions they were looking for a lacrosse coach, so I fell into that. Lacrosse became part of my world. I coached varsity volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse in New York City, as well as lower level softball. I even dabbled as an assistant cross country coach. Though I will miss coaching, it's important that I be accessible to all our coaches, student athletes, and families as the athletic director.
“Our physical and our social‑emotional well-being affects our intellectual well‑being. ”
How did you get into teaching?
My parents were both Montessori educators. I was going to do anything but education. It’s nothing I thought I would do. But right before college graduation I called my mom, and I said, “I don’t know if I want to do advertising. I want to be a teacher.” And she hung up the phone. She thought I was kidding! But it’s what I knew I had to do. I thought, “Wait a minute. I only know school. And that’s where I know I’m at my best.” I knew I was a better student because I was a student-athlete. So I did a teacher education program and started off teaching social studies and coaching.
What’s your approach to physical education?
Whatever path we choose to move our bodies, it’s an opportunity for us to connect so many dimensions of wellness. Our physical well-being affects our social-emotional well-being. Our physical and our social-emotional well-being affects our intellectual well-being, our thinking side. The interpersonal skills that you gain, whether it be on an athletic field or in a PE class or in a gym, they blend so well and so naturally.
We don’t want students to specialize in competitive sports only. Take a volleyball player—they feel really comfortable playing volleyball. But how do they feel snowshoeing or rock climbing or doing yoga? There’s such a difference with interscholastic athletics versus a physical education program. These students, we want them involved with wellness and sports, whether they be individual, competitive, or noncompetitive. Lifelong learning. That’s what’s at the root of it all.
What are you most excited about in your new position at MCDS?
There are some great things in place. I want to sustain those wonderful things, but I also want to build and expand, whether it’s program offerings or more levels within the current offerings. Diversify, expand, continue to grow, continue to improve. There’s so much potential here.
Are there any sports or programs you’re hoping to bring to MCDS?
Selfishly, curling! I found curling as my new competitive sport and to make it through the midwest winters. We don’t have to build a curling club—there’s dedicated curling ice nearby. It’s a wonderful lifetime team sport. We can start with junior curling. Other sports that come to mind are skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, and tennis. I don’t see why we can’t or shouldn’t add these as MCDS interscholastic offerings soon. Something else I would like to focus on is developing more middle school and JV level teams to help strengthen our athletic programs.
I would love for us to continue some of our coop programs, but I would also love for MCDS to be its own brand, its own entity as an interscholastic athletic program, where we can carve out those real, authentic MCDS athletic experiences that are unmatched other places.
As a coach, how do you relate to athletes and students?
Building a relationship of trust. Building a relationship that’s familiar. Coach, player—those identities need to be present, but they don’t have to be barriers. I’ve learned plenty from my students and the players I’ve coached over the years!