As an eighth-grade lacrosse player competing in the 1995 Royal Palms Tournament, Matt Kowalchick '99 looked on starry-eyed at the team from Avon Old Farms School. They were strong players, outgoing people, and always seemed to be having fun.
“The camaraderie on and off the field was palpable, even to a young kid like me,” shared Kowalchick. “I already knew about Avon’s outstanding lacrosse program, but that experience really sealed the deal for me; I knew I wanted to be a part of Avon.”
In the fall of 1996, Kowalchick enrolled at Avon as a sophomore and was immediately thrown into life on the Farm, as all new students were.
“New students had to come in early for pre-season sports, on top of having a three-sport requirement,” he recalled. “So, I played thirds football with Coach Roller my first season—which was awesome. I then went on to play hockey with Coaches Detora and Doyle, and finally got to play JV lacrosse in the spring with Coach Rice.”
The three-sport requirement and demanding environment quickly instilled a value of mental toughness and grit in Kowalchick, and by the time spring rolled around, he was a solid member of Avon and Captain of Peter Rice`s JV lacrosse team.
“We were forced to engage in things beyond our comfort zone and, looking back, I think that made all the difference,” he shared. “My first year at Avon was the most formative year of my life. Strong coaches and teachers were there to guide us, but to also show us what the expectations at Avon were. And they were high.”
Off the field, Kowalchick looked up to teachers Kevin Driscoll and Señora Leis.
“KD sure knew boys,” he said. “Both Driscoll and Leis saw right through any facade a boy could try to put up. They were the type of mentors boys need to discover themselves, and we felt safe going to them with anything. They were truly gifted developers.”
Those high expectations Kowalchick remembers still exist at Avon, with Headmaster LaRocque commenting on that fact the same day we conducted this interview. During his address at Morning Meeting, LaRocque said, “It’s the middle of February, and we all know that the long days and cold weather take a toll—but we can push through it together. Alumni will tell you that they didn’t learn about toughness and grit in college. They learned those life skills here, and that’s what you’re doing right now. So keep at it, and have a good day.”
While the spirit of Avon has remained the same over the decades, Kowalchick has an insider’s perspective as an alumnus who has served on Avon’s staff for five years as Associate Director of Admission.
Avon today is a lot more competitive to get into, and society has changed the experience: gone are the days of waiting in line at the end of the hall to use the payphone; gone are the days of if you didn’t like the hot meal, you at least had some peanut butter instead; gone are the days of taking pride in going without. But, the spirit of the school endures.
“I worked at a few other schools first, because I needed to learn, and I needed to give the school a chance to forget about how much of a pain I was as a student,” Kowalchick joked. “But, I always knew that Avon was the best boys school and I knew I wanted to come back. But, your first car should never be a Mercedes, so for 10 years I cut my teeth at two other boarding schools before coming home to the Farm … Now I have the opportunity to share with young boys what Avon really is. When you get a family on campus and show them Avon, and they realize the magic of this place, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
While Kowalchick would advise current students to throw their cell phones into Beaver Pond and not worry about getting home, he maintains that when the kids do play stickball and do trek to the pond with a fishing pole, his own fond memories come flooding back.
This spring, Kowalchick and the class of 1999 will celebrate their 20th reunion, and it seems fitting that this is also Headmaster LaRocque’s last year.
“In the fall of 1998, Ken LaRocque had just taken on the leadership of the school, and I think our class presented some challenges,” he said. “We owe it to him to send him out in a strong fashion.”
The 2019 Reunion Weekend will take place May 17 - 19 at Avon Old Farms School. We hope all the reunion classes make the trip back for what is sure to be a memorable weekend.
“We’re getting in the Delorean, and we’re going back to the future,” said Kowalchick. “I hope everyone piles in with me because it’s going to be awesome ... You can return to campus, and stare in wonderment out over the Farmington Valley from a new vantage point on the Village Green, but then you’ll hear a familiar voice call out an old nickname and then you’ll feel a clap on the back and know this is our school. This is still our Avon.”
Reunion Weekend registration is now open on Avon Old Farms School’s website.