|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XVIII NUMBER 1 Fall 2002|
The Accidental Coach
Cindy Book M'81 has good reason for being sentimental this fall. After spending the past 21 years as a volleyball coach, including the last 11 seasons at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., the Woodbury, Conn., native decided to put down her whistle in deference to her ever- expanding responsibilities as the college's director of athletics and chair of physical education.
Looking for a way to commemorate his wife's long and distinguished career, Paul Book, who also received his master's degree from Keene State in 1981, decided to surprise Cindy last spring with a scrapbook containing the names and pictures of past team members who had become like family over the years.
While the scrapbook gave her the opportunity to recall her most recent success at St. Olaf, where she built and directed the women's volleyball team into a Division III power, it also allowed her the chance to reminisce about her earlier coaching days and the unlikely twist of fate that began her association with the sport at Keene State College.
A track and field hockey athlete at Springfield College, Book came to Keene State in the fall of 1977 to begin a master's program in education.
A year later, Book was teaching skill-level courses and serving as the athletic department secretary when, three weeks into the season, the recently hired women's volleyball coach decided to quit. Book, with no experience in the sport, was asked to take over the team. "I decided to just take a good humorous approach to it," she recalled.
Meeting the team for the first time, Book was very blunt about her background. "I told them that I didn't know much about volleyball, but I would be their biggest fan," Book said. "I told them that I would help them in whatever way I could while I learned the game."
It didn't take long for the veteran team, which included future Owl coaches Gail Burgess and Lorrie Levy, to establish a bond with their new coach.
"Coach Book was a very bright woman, who picked things up very well," Burgess said. "The fact that she didn't know the Xs and Os of the sport didn't matter. "She was organized and knew how to run a practice and everyone appreciated her genuine desire to learn the game."
Leading the Owls to a surprising 13-3 record her first season, Book set out to learn all she could about the sport.
"I went to every clinic I could find and just soaked it up," Book said. "I read everything and talked to people and fell in love with the game."
After receiving her degree in education from KSC, Book was hired by former Owl athletic director George Henry to take over the team at Bethel (Minn.) College. Turning the program around during her eight years at the school, Book also took time to earn a Ph.D. in measurement and evaluation from the University of Minnesota.
Not content to sit on the sidelines, Book prided herself in learning a sport through actual participation. Writing her master's thesis on marathon running at KSC, Book trained for and ran the DeMar Marathon in Keene because she "wanted to know how it feels to run the distance."
While learning the sport of volleyball, Book attended summer camps with junior and senior high school kids. "It was quite hilarious; here was this women mixed in with these kids," she said. "I just wanted to know what it felt like to hit and set a ball. You have to know the basics."
For the past 11 seasons, Book has served as the head women's volleyball coach at St. Olaf. Producing numerous All-America and conference players, Book led her 1996 team to a third-place finish at the NCAA Championship earning NCAA Division III Coach of the Year honors. Posting an impressive 549-235 overall record during her career, she is among the top 20 on the Division III all-time coaches list.
Always looking for the next professional challenge, Book, one of the few female athletic directors in the country, has spent the past four years overseeing the College's highly competitive 27-sport program.
There is a good deal of satisfaction when Book recounts how far she has come in her coaching and administrative career – an unlikely journey that began at Keene State. "I have fond memories of my days at Keene State because I was able to take my first steps in my coaching and administrative career there," Book said. "I was very fortunate. I don't think I could have had the same opportunity today."
Stuart Kaufman is sports information coordinator at Keene State College.