New Scholarship Named for Jim Ehrenhaft ’83
Supports Skip Grant Program
A St. Albans family has anonymously created a scholarship to support students in the Skip Grant Program. Named for religion teacher and cross-country coach Jim Ehrenhaft ’83, the scholarship honors “a great teacher and coach,” who, in the words of the donors, “through his patience, kindness and unwavering ethical compass, has enriched the lives of countless students and athletes.”
No surprise, the St. Albans track first brought Jim Ehrenhaft ’83 to our campus as a student. And the track (and running Coach Skip Grant) brought him back again to teach, as Coach Ehrenhaft recalls in this profile.
Jim Ehrenhaft ’83: Coaching for Life
At the end of the interview, Jim Ehrenhaft ’83 pauses at the door, turns around, and says quietly: “Please, if there’s not enough here, if there’s not a good story, I won’t be offended if you write about someone else.” Mild-mannered, good-humored, and highly energetic, this St. Albans graduate has devoted much of his life to teaching and coaching St. Albans students while deflecting attention from himself.
St. Albans Swim Coach Rob Green, who knew Ehrenhaft as a boy and as a colleague, describes him as “modest, unassuming, and genuine.” When asked whether Ehrenhaft deliberately avoided the limelight, Green laughs: “He’s just too busy for it! He has so much on his plate coaching cross-country and track—one of the biggest sports programs we have—and yet he never grumbles.” Green adds, “I’ve seen his hair grow grey, and I know why!”
Growing up just a half mile from St. Albans, Ehrenhaft occasionally jogged on the Bulldog’s track while attending the Sheridan School. In ninth grade, he enrolled at St. Albans. His interests then were much what they are today: “cross-country and track” (his 1983 yearbook photo shows him racing). Almost as an afterthought, he mentions, “I played basketball too. I didn’t get involved in much else until my senior year, when I joined the senior play. “We performed Mother Courage, by Bertolt Brecht. The production was a little ambitious,” Ehrenhaft laughs. “It received mixed reviews.”
When asked about life at St. Albans in the early 1980s, Ehrenhaft responds quickly, “There are a lot of similarities, especially the expectation that you were going to push yourself. Both then and now, the School cultivated students who really wanted to work.” Ehrenhaft admits, somewhat sheepishly, “At St. Albans, my striving had more to do with running than academics. I was a B student (with an occasional C). It wasn’t until I was in college at Haverford that what happened academically at St. Albans really kicked in for me.”
After college, Ehrenhaft returned to St. Albans as a coach and teacher. His former running coach and constant friend, Oliver “Skip” Grant suggested to then-Headmaster Mark Mullin that he be hired. “Mr. Grant—Skip Grant—and I stayed in close touch while I was in college, and when I began to look for a job, I called Skip to get his advice about two other schools where I had applied to work. He said, ‘What about here? Would you want to teach here?’ I said no, I would be more interested in exploring some other place—some place different. But, after a half hour of talking to Skip Grant, I came to the conclusion that it would be good to come to St. Albans School again!”
Ehrenhaft began to teach and coach at St. Albans in 1987 and has been here ever since, taking only two years off to obtain a master’s degree from George Washington University.
In the early years, Ehrenhaft taught in the Lower School. The experience was “incredible—from the first day on.” He shared a spacious, open classroom with Ann Wolcott and Peter Barrett. “They’re both on the Lower School Wall of Fame,” he notes, somewhat breathlessly, referring to the roster of great teachers inscribed on the Lower School walls. “For a teacher right out of college, that was an incredible experience.” Ehrenhaft began teaching in the Upper School after receiving his master’s degree in religion (he wrote his thesis on anamnesis—the concept that human experience is a process in which we dispel forgetfulness and relearn what we all once knew). Since then, Ehrenhaft has taught religion courses on mythology and mysticism; segments on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam; and English courses on literature and spirituality.
All the while, he has coached cross-country and track. He has also continued to run and, in the winter, to race (his fastest mile ever was 4:24; in recent years: 4:39). “I do feel I can be a better coach by continuing to compete and train. But I learned pretty early, student running has to be the priority. And without a doubt, the real rewards come from coaching.”
When Skip Grant retired in 1998, Ehrenhaft was named head cross-country coach. Fifteen years later, he remains the head cross-country coach. Ehrenhaft recalls: “When I took over, people kept saying, ‘It must be hard to fill Skip Grant’s shoes.’ In truth, it wasn’t because Skip Grant had laid such a strong foundation for the running program. He had established a culture that so valued running it wasn’t hard to keep the momentum going. This year, our cross-country camp had 129 students from NCS and St. Albans. For a school as small as ours to have such a big program is a real testament to Skip Grant.”
Skip Grant is equally appreciative. “If Jim hadn’t come back to St. Albans,” Grant admits, “I would probably still be coaching. When you build up something you really like, you want to make sure it thrives. I knew the running program would thrive under Jim. He embraces all who come out for the sport. He recognizes the importance of teaching boys how to take care of themselves for life—so that twenty-five years later they’re still running. I felt so comfortable when Jim took over the program, I never looked back.”