This story originally appeared in the WHS Forum. The writer is a freshman and played on this year’s volleyball team.
Two weeks ago, Wilton High School’s freshman girls volleyball team competed in its final match of the season, outscoring Ridgefield two sets to one. This game not only marked the end of 2020’s shortened volleyball season, but it was also Coach Jim Liptack’s final game at Wilton High School.
While a beloved coach’s departure from a sport always brings sadness, in some respect, Liptack’s retirement from volleyball opened a door to celebrating how he’s changed Wilton’s volleyball community for the better.
Among the plethora of teams Liptack has trained in his 23 years as a volleyball coach was this year’s freshman team. He guided his players to a winning record of 4-2 for the season, including their final win against Ridgefield, a team that had previously beaten Wilton in the first match of the season. Despite its starting 0-2 record, the freshman team was able to pull ahead and win the rest of its matches.
“I take great joy in watching a group of young ladies who have never played, or are just beginning to play volleyball go from not knowing any skills or even where to stand on the court to swapping positions and actually playing real volleyball,” Liptack said.
Most athletes on the court began playing volleyball under Liptack’s guidance, but they finished the season with a strong knowledge and grasp of the sport. It’s important to recognize that the mastery of a sport is not only based within the sport itself but within the qualities and values attained while playing.
“For players who are just starting out, there is certainly perseverance and determination as young players make lots of mistakes and hopefully learn from them. As players grow in skill, the level of competition grows as well. Here, the life lessons become more extrinsic. The focus is less, although not completely gone, on ‘self’ and more on ‘team’ and the role individuals have in making a team work together toward a common goal. My hope is that I have helped young athletes along that road to adulthood,” Liptack said.
The success of his athletes is a sentiment to Liptack, a tried and true master and teacher of the game of volleyball. He strived not only to teach his athletes the game of volleyball but also to be pragmatic, well-rounded human beings.
Kylie Bell, this year’s captain of the varsity volleyball team, experienced Liptack’s guidance three years ago, and believes he is more than just a coach to the team.
“The character trait that Coach Liptack exhibits most memorably is kindness, which is inspiring to me and so many athletes. From his frequent brownie making to cleaning the old whiteboards for the varsity team, he is always helping others; if you ever ask him for help, he wouldn’t hesitate,” Bell said.
Izzi Silverstein, a current freshman who was on Liptack’s team this year, shared an important Liptack characteristic—teaching his athletes valuable life lessons.
“One important life lesson I learned from Coach Liptack this year is that everyone has equal potential to improve and be successful. You just gotta remember that everyone starts from somewhere. My favorite quality of Coach Liptack is how trusting he is. He trusted us to warm up on our own most days and to be efficient during practice. I also value how he knows that we sometimes get distracted and it’s good to just have fun sometimes,” Silverstein said.
From the comments of the players themselves, Liptack possesses all the qualities the term “coach” embodies. His understanding, informative, kind, encouraging, trustworthy, and, above all, a happy presence on the volleyball court and elsewhere, prove the respect he gains from all.
As some of the players mentioned, one can’t talk about Liptack without mentioning his ever-famous brownies. For each away game, he would make and distribute brownies to everyone on the bus, and often had extras to spare. Even with the struggles of the COVID-19 virus, Liptack went the extra mile to bake and individually wrap brownies so that this year’s team could enjoy the time-old tradition. Coach Liptack’s brownies are just another thing that exemplifies his kind and generous spirit as both a coach and a person.
As Liptack retires from coaching volleyball, he will be remembered as someone who expanded and developed the Wilton volleyball program and also helped to inspire and motivate the athletes he coached–not just as volleyball players, but as human beings.
“My greatest hope is that [they] will believe that they were treated fairly, with respect and dignity. That they were treated as individuals and given an opportunity to grow as volleyball players and members of a team. Above all, I hope they will look back at the time we worked together and say they had fun learning to play volleyball,” Liptack said.