Skip To Main Content

Kindling a Fire: To Coach Is To Touch Eternity

Kindling a Fire: To Coach Is To Touch Eternity

Cincinnati Country Day School has participated in athletics – initially of the intramural variety and eventually of the state championship variety – for most of its nearly 100-year existence. A great many coaches have stalked its sidelines. But there can be no doubt that near the top of any list of outstanding Country Day coaches is Tim Dunn. A legendary coach in both baseball and football – and a gifted teacher in the classroom and science lab – Coach Dunn’s impact on decades of Country Day graduates cannot be overstated.

In May, the Country Day community gathered to celebrate Coach Dunn’s induction into the CCDS Athletic Hall of Fame. There was much to celebrate. Coach Dunn arrived at Country Day in 1986 from an east coast boarding school. Over the course of a 35-year career, he went on to win 563 games in baseball (including two state championships) and 219 games in football (including two state final four appearances).

But the true measure of his success is not games won but lives touched. On that score, Coach Dunn is unparalleled in recent Country Day history. As just one reminder of his legacy, Coach Dunn’s induction ceremony was attended by CCDS alumni spanning the entirety of his tenure, from the class of 1987 to the soon-to-be graduates of the class of 2024. Hall of Fame credentials, indeed.

And yet, while even a figure as sardonic as Tim surely feels some pride at being referred to as a Hall of Famer, I also suspect there is no greater honorific for him than to be called simply “coach.” Because, to paraphrase a line that adorns our walls at CCDS, to coach is to touch eternity. I have lost count of the number of Country Day alumni who, when asked about the formative influences in their lives, first point to a coach like Tim. I would certainly count myself among those alumni.

In fact, coaching was my own first step into a career in education. I cherish the opportunity to steward my alma mater, an institution that means so much to me. But I consider the many years I’ve spent coaching youth basketball and baseball to be close behind, and without those years coaching, I would not be Country Day’s head of school today.

Luckily, I have constant reminders of that inspiration. When I see one of my current students here in the hallways of Country Day, he does not call me “Mr. Zimmerman” or “head of school.” Instead, because I once coached him years ago in basketball, he simply calls me “coach.” And every time he calls out to me – “coach” – it reminds me of the small but lasting impact I had on his life, and more importantly, his on mine.

At Coach Dunn’s induction ceremony, I heard dozens of former athletes greet Tim Dunn as “coach,” and in those greetings I know that he heard what I heard: the recognition of a special lifelong bond, and a wellspring of love and gratitude for the incalculable impact he made on their lives. It is no surprise that many of Coach Dunn’s former players have gone on to be coaches themselves.

In Coach Dunn’s case, his impact is uniquely broad and deep and goes beyond athletics. He was not just a hall-of-fame coach in two major sports, but also the science department chair and teacher of the highest-level courses at CCDS, including the famed (and feared) AP Biology. To Tim, this was expected. There was no competition between academics and athletics, just the consistent pursuit of excellence in whatever one does. As Tim summed it up:

I never saw much difference between teaching and coaching: communicate and motivate. The best teachers I worked with would have been great coaches and the best coaches would have been great teachers if they each had the necessary expertise. At the end of the day, it’s the same skill set and one not easily learned. I think in many ways I coached biology and I taught baseball and football. At least I hope I did.

Coach Dunn, as generations of Country Day students can confirm, you certainly did. In the classroom and on the athletic fields, your example is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

"Kindling a Fire" is a column submitted regularly to Indian Hill Living by Head of School Rob Zimmerman '98. This ran in the July 2024 edition of the publication.