Peter Slovenski poses with his long distance medley relay team after it won a national title at the 2012 Division III Indoor championships in Iowa. Photo provided by Bowdoin College

BRUNSWICK — Peter Slovenski knew retirement might be in his plans once the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the country last March and forced colleges to close for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester. 

“When the virus shut our school and team down, that was the first sign for me that I might be nearing the finish line,” said Slovenski, the Bowdoin track and field coach. “I turned 65 in November, and then there is Zoom. Some people got Zoom fatigue, but I got Zoom retirement.”

Slovenski announced on March 23 he would retire at the end of the academic year after 34 seasons coaching the Polar Bears. He informed his team of his decision on — naturally — Zoom.

Slovenski joined men’s basketball coach Tim Gilbride as longtime Bowdoin coaches to announce their retirement this year.

Gilbride announced he’d also retire at the end of the academic year.

Slovenski came to Bowdoin in the fall 1987, where he would go on to coach the Polar Bears in 102 consecutive seasons. He would guide the Polar Bears to seven New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championships in three different sports — women’s track and field (1992, 93), women’s cross country (1992, 95) and men’s cross country (1991, 2001, 02). 

Peter Slovenski talks to some student-athletes during a 2019-20 race. Slovenski recently announced his retirement, effective at the end of the academic year. Photo provided by Bowdoin College

The Polar Bears accomplished quite a bit under Slovenski, with several notable performances on the national stage that stood out. 

“Watching our distance medley relay win two NCAA national titles, watching a record be broken by one of our own, those are what makes coaching so wonderful,” said Slovenski. 

In 2012, the Bowdoin men’s distance medley relay team won the Division III national championship at Grinnell (Iowa) College with a time of 9:59.67. The team was comprised of Coby Horowitz, Matthew Gamache, Colin Fong and Matthew Hillard.

Former athletes recalled Slovenski’s calm yet focused demeanor as his biggest strengths. 

“Part of what made him a great coach is that he was that calm yet serious coach, then his sense of humor would come out and break the tense moments,” said 2006 Bowdoin graduate Emily Hackert. 

Hackert would later go on to become an assistant track and field coach at Colby College in Waterville, and was the interim head coach during the 2015 season. She found herself emulating some of Slovenski’s tactics and style.

“I truly got to appreciate all the hard work that he (Slovenski) did when I experienced coaching at Colby,” said Hackert. “The way he created a winning culture and his pointers were definitely something that influenced me in my career.”

Other former Bowdoin athletes say they were influenced in different ways.

“Coach (Slovenski) did a fantastic job of finding other ways for those of us who couldn’t contribute athletically to contribute in other ways,” said 1998 graduate Alison Wade, who was injured for much of her Bowdoin career. “One year he had me take photos for an end-of-the-season slideshow, and experiences like that helped me get my first job in the running industry, where I’ve worked ever since.”

Longtime Bowdoin College track and field coach Peter Slovenski will retire at the end of this academic year. Photo provided by Bowdoin College

Wade said she has spent a good portion of her career coaching track and field, but has yet to meet anyone quite like Slovenski.  

“I’ve coached in a lot of programs and I’ve worked in the running industry for years and I have yet to encounter another coach who approached his or her job with such creativity,” said Wade. “He was a master at building a positive team environment, and he also brought a great deal of professionalism to the job.”

Slovenski didn’t hesitate when asked what he’ll miss most. 

“The field house,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place to hold practices on winter nights, and fit all our needs. I’ll also miss Friday night high school track meets in the field house, the energy with the crowd was unmatched, and are great events for the community.”

As for Slovenski’s next move, a move down south is in the works. 

“Our three sons live in Tennessee with our three grandchildren,” said Slovenski. “My wife, Dugan, has supported me for 34 years in Maine as a track coach. Now, we’re moving to Tennessee so she can be a local grandmother for 34 years.”

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