Whether it's coaching boys or girls, East Lyme's Biggs is always in his comfort zone
New London — This is how Jack Biggs started his coaching career at East Lyme High School.
He was hired to teach physical education in November of the 1997-98 school year and with that came a request of Biggs from former athletic director Dave Sdao. Would he coach the first-year girls’ volleyball program for one season beginning in 1998?
“I was the only coach,” Biggs said. “I didn’t know the game. (The players) didn’t know the game. I got a lot of help from (former Ledyard coach) Pam Laramie and (Fitch coach) Steve Banks. … Then they said, ‘Hey, just do it one more year.’ I thought, ‘One more year. I’ll hold this fort down one more year.’”
Biggs previously served as assistant boys’ soccer coach at RHAM. He was thinking he’d wait until East Lyme had an opening on the soccer staff. Then the Jack Biggs philosophy of coaching kicked in.
“I said, ‘Why wait?’” Biggs said. “‘I can make a difference here.’”
Biggs was speaking Tuesday in front of the dugout at Sal Amanti Field in New London. In his 13th season as East Lyme’s head baseball coach, Biggs had just watched a young Vikings team take an 8-1 lead early against New London and hold on for an 8-4 victory in a gusting wind which made for some bitter temperatures.
That’s on top of his role as head volleyball coach, which he’s kept ever since the day he was appointed back in 1997.
Biggs has coached in six state championship games since his arrival at East Lyme, four in volleyball (2006, 2010-12) and two in baseball (2015, 2016), winning CIAC Class L volleyball titles in 2010 and 2011. The Vikings (4-2 overall, 2-0 in Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I) are the reigning ECC Division I champions in baseball, as well as volleyball.
It’s safe to say that Biggs’ original inclination was correct. He’s made a difference here.
“He keeps a positive mindset, he treats everybody like an athlete, pushing the family things. Put that together,” East Lyme catcher Matt Malcom said of what makes Biggs a good coach. “He takes care of us. We take care of him for taking care of us.
“He coaches us (baseball and volleyball) pretty much the same. Hard work, intensity. He teaches class — he’s a class act — how to act with sportsmanship. … He changed the way I played. He changed my life.”
Malcom, East Lyme’s all-star catcher and No. 3 hitter, will play next season at Eastern Connecticut State University. So will Madison Bell, the East Lyme volleyball team’s defensive wizard, two-time Class L all-state selection and The Day’s two-time All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
Bell agrees with Malcom’s superlatives regarding Biggs.
“Half of my success was because of him,” Bell said earlier this week. “He just helps you. On the court, he teaches you a lot of things; he gives you plays. He also taught me how to be confident, how to be a leader; he taught me that in my regular life. If I had to talk in front of everyone my freshman year, I’d hide in a corner. Now he has me talk at meetings with parents. He had faith in me being captain as a junior when I was scared to lead. He’s like a life coach.”
Bell said the boys tell her Biggs is a little stricter with them than the girls. Biggs and his wife Megan, who live in East Lyme, have three sons, Blake, 13, Garrison, 10, and Greyson, 7. But that doesn’t stop Biggs from coaching the girls with the same amount of candor. He’ll let them know if they didn’t play well.
“He knows they’re two totally different people,” Bell said of the comparison between the baseball and volleyball players. “But he still knows what to do.”
“Because he is a professional coach. That’s why,” East Lyme athletic director Steve Hargis said of Biggs’ success across sports, “independent of the sport, independent of the gender. I hold him up as a role model as quality coaching at the high school. There’s literally no difference in the people standing in front of him. … He has a template and his template is successful.”
Biggs, Hargis said, has a system for letting players know whether or not they made a team. The players receive envelopes with a letter they can open in private. If they didn’t make the team, they’re invited to talk to Biggs personally. Biggs also serves as the assistant athletic director under Hargis, who calls him “an invaluable part of the athletic department.”
Baseball scorekeeper Dale Schumacher first encountered Biggs when his daughter Jenna played for the volleyball team. He later volunteered for Biggs in volleyball, as well as baseball.
“You’re used to doing your job and you go … and that’s his job,” Schumacher said. “He can pump a kid up, he can diffuse a situation. He always knows the best way; he knows the right thing to say at the right time.”
“I don’t treat boys and girls based on gender,” Biggs said. “We want to come at them and teach life lessons of these guys. Sometimes adults have to step in and teach them how to compete, that you compete in the classroom, that you compete in the hallways. … I just have a philosophy and I never truly changed it.”
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