Walter Slovenski - Head XC and Track Coach from 1952-1995


Walter Slovenski retired from Bates in 1995 after 43 years of coaching, leading his Bobcat track and cross country teams to 726 victories, five undefeated seasons, more than 20 State of Maine championships and four New England regional championships.

"Walter Slovenski's years of service to Bates and his commitment to his family, to his student-athletes, to the importance of competition and to achievement are all emblematic of the highest standards and expectations," former Bates president Donald W. Harward says. "Bates is proud to have had the opportunity to be influenced by his decades of dedication, professionalism and humane good will."

Slovenski combined competitive zeal, deep care for his student-athletes, and a spirited sense of humor and fun to bring out the best in his performers.

"The Slovenski name is synonymous with track and field excellence," says Director of Athletics Suzanne Coffey. "Whether watching him chase alongside and cajole an athlete, or seeing him offer a word of advice and encouragement to a younger coach in the department, it was easy to see the fire in this man's competitiveness and the humor in his soul. The Slovenski legacy is unparalleled."

Born April 13, 1920, in Dupont, Pa., Slovenski left school after the seventh grade to join his father as a coal miner. One day, a local high school track coach, Jack Daugherty, saw Slovenski perform at a local summer field day and convinced his parents to enroll him in high school. A star athlete at Cherry Hill (Pa.) High School who led his football team to a 10-0 record in 1939, Slovenski was later the national prep school long jump champion at Seton Hall Prep. After spending three and a half years in the Navy, Slovenski attended Syracuse University. While there, Slovenski was an All-America baseball player, a two-way football player whose name still appears in the Orangemen's record books, and a member of the track and field teams, competing in the long jump and high jump.

After graduating from Syracuse in 1949, Slovenski earned a master's degree at New York University and coached track at Oneonta State College for two years before coming to Bates in 1952 as assistant football and head track coach. From 1957 to 1960, Bates compiled a 30-meet winning streak, including victories over schools like Boston University, the University of Connecticut and the University of Maine. The Bobcats' state track titles in 1957 and 1958 were their first since 1912.

In 1958, Slovenski resurrected the long-dormant Bates cross country program and built it, too, into a consistent winner, posting a 9-1 record by 1963 and winning the first four New England Small College Athletic Conference championships between 1983 and 1986.

Slovenski produced 26 All-Americans, including five national champions. Slovenski's track and cross country teams produced the highest finishes by any Bates team at an NCAA championship, placing fifth at the indoor track and field meet in 1989 and sixth at the cross country championships in 1977.

Slovenski has been inducted into the Clearfield County (Pa.), Indiana (Pa.) and Lewiston Auburn Sports Halls of Fame, as well as the Maine Running Hall of Fame. He was honored as a New England and NCAA cross country coach of the year. In the 1960s, Slovenski was selected by the Mexican government to upgrade that country's track programs in preparation for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. A competitor in the World Veterans' track and field championships in 1989, Slovenski placed sixth in the hammer throw with a toss of 123 feet, 6 inches.

"Walt single-handedly made what we were doing important," says Steven Ryan '83, who holds the Bates record in the javelin. "I often had the impression from athletes at other schools that they competed because they didn't have much else to do, it was expected of them or they were obligated to perform for their scholarship. With Walt, it simply mattered. He created a tradition and gave events an historical perspective. He fostered an environment in which you simply had to achieve to your potential or you would be letting yourself down.

"Walter Slovenski was simply the most energetic, positive, enthusiastic determined person that I have ever met in my life," Ryan continues. "He had a tremendous life-force, a personal vitality that profoundly influenced those that came in contact with him. He was a mentor for young men at a very influential point in their lives. His magnetism had the effect of leaving a permanent mark on hundreds and hundreds of men. How many can say that?

"He taught us to think for ourselves and to stick to our beliefs and principles. He taught the meaning and importance of loyalty, a trait that has become increasingly hard to find."

Auburn resident and former Bates assistant track coach, and 1965 Bates graduate Allen Harvie recalls remarks written by Slovenski in 1998 when the indoor track was dedicated to him. "The Bates community helped Ruth and me raise six children," Slovenski wrote. "I'd like to thank every Bates track athlete for enrolling at Bates and making such terrific contributions to our track team. Everything I ever accomplished I have to give credit to Jack Daugherty. I learned through him the lessons of sports, the great joy of helping others through athletics. He single-handedly transformed my life."