From his first games as a boy in Rochester, New York, Kyle Hanford thought of himself as a hockey player. By the time he decided to take a post-graduate year at Williston in 1996 to develop his skills, the identity was firmly in place. Hockey, he says, “was why I went to Williston.” The school’s generous financial aid package sealed the deal.
But when his Williston season ended with a dramatic overtime loss, the 18-year-old found himself adrift. It was then that he received some advice that has stayed with him ever since. “A teacher said to me, ‘You are more than that. You are more than just a hockey player.’ She woke me up. And I started to see these young bright minds around me doing more than just their athletics. They were thinkers, they were readers, they were writers. They were bright people. And I was inspired.”
Kyle was indeed more than a hockey player. After Williston, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Ithaca College, a master’s in education at Boston College, and eventually another master’s in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School. In 2011, married and with children, he returned to Williston to teach English and, yes, coach hockey. In his interactions with student-athletes, he says he tries to encourage that same expanded sense of possibility that proved so helpful in his life. “It’s always stuck with me,” he explains. “You are more than what you think you are.”
Another Williston conversation, it turns out, helped steer Kyle to his current work. One evening in the Williston dorms, he asked biology teacher Chris Cheney what subject he would have taught if he had his choice. “He said, ‘I would have taught English, because you can connect with kids more.’ And it was through that conversation that I thought maybe English is where it’s at.”
Later, in college, after taking history classes and deciding it was not for him, he remembered Mr. Cheney’s words and switched to English. More than a decade later, when he returned to Williston as a teacher, he had the chance to tell Mr. Cheney just how pivotal that casual conversation had been. “That was a cool thing to tell somebody,” Kyle recalls, “that you inspired me to do what I’m doing.”