This is the sixteenth article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni. Read last week’s article here.
Although Ted Minnis’s path out of M-A was less conventional than most, his character and passion for the sport of water polo has carried him into his current position as one of the top collegiate water polo coaches in the country.
Minnis dropped out of M-A during his senior year after his son was born. He explained, “It was hard for me to focus in school. I’m dyslexic, so it was difficult for me to write. I was embarrassed about my handwriting. They said I was hyper—the class clown. Athletics always made more sense to me.”
“I’ll never forget, the first semester of my senior year the school told my parents, ‘He likes hanging out in the parking lot more than he likes going to class, so he might as well just not go to school,’” Minnis said. “That was tough—definitely life-changing. I remember seeing the disappointment on my parents’ faces and thinking, ‘Wow, I really messed up.’”
“I had a two-month-old baby, so I had to make money,” he continued. Minnis got a job as a tree trimmer, making $5.25 an hour—10 cents more than minimum wage at the time. He earned his General Educational Development (GED) in the spring of 1988.
Then, P.E. teacher Pamela Wimberly hired Minnis to coach the M-A water polo team. “I owe her the world,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if she hadn’t taken a chance on me.”
While coaching at M-A, Minnis woke up at 2 a.m. every morning to work a morning shift driving a truck for Durham Meat Company before practice in order to earn a living to support his son.
Minnis coached at M-A for seven years before moving on to coach at the nearby Castilleja School and Stanford Water Polo Club. He served as the head coach for the Olympic Development Program Pacific Zone for three years, and worked with the USA Youth National Team staff. In 2005 and 2007, Minnis was a Positive Coaching Alliance finalist for coach of the year.
In 2005, Minnis went back to school and earned an undergraduate degree in history from San Jose State University. “I loved school when I went back,” he said. “I had a thirst for knowledge. I like to think that I was a late bloomer.”
In 2010, Minnis applied for a coaching position at Harvard. He remembered, “I said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ll apply and just see where my resumé is lacking.’ I got an interview, and then a callback, and then an on-campus interview, and the next thing I knew, they were hiring me. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m about to live my dream coaching college water polo!’”
“Ted wasn’t a 10-year veteran with college coaching when we hired him, but his values and the way he treated people really stood out,” Michael Graff, a Harvard alum who helped endow the coaching position Minnis holds, told The New York Times.
“We were looking for people who were educators, who could teach lessons through the sport of water polo,” Bob Scalise, Harvard’s athletic director, told The New York Times. “And that’s what I saw in Ted. I thought with his passion and his desire to continue to learn, even if he wasn’t the best credentialed coach, he would become an outstanding coach for us over time.”
In his first season as a collegiate head coach, Minnis showed immediate success. The Crimson women logged their most wins in six years during the 2010-11 season, and the men’s squad won their most games in three seasons.
Graff added, “It was a bit of a chance the athletic department took, but it’s certainly paying off.”
Minnis is now the winningest coach in Harvard water polo history for both the men’s and women’s programs. He was recognized as the Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Men’s Coaching Award winner in 2016.
“My favorite part of my job is having an impact on the lives of the student-athletes. I want them to know that I care just as much, if not more, about them outside the pool as I care about them in the pool,” he said.
“Coach Minnis is the reason a lot of guys are here,” men’s co-captain Joey Colton told The Harvard Magazine in 2017.
Minnis’s advice to current M-A students: Take full advantage of the resources and opportunities available to you, and don’t forget to smell the roses as you’re going by because high school will be over in the blink of an eye. I’m so proud that I went to M-A, and you can get a great education there. Maybe I didn’t take full advantage of the academic side while I was in high school, but some of my best friends who I am still close with to this day were my classmates at M-A. As we used to say, go Bears!
Disclaimer: Bears Doing Big Things is not meant to be a list ranking the most accomplished or famous M-A graduates on Earth. It is a collection of people with a wide range of expertise, opinions, and stages of life who were kindly willing to share their stories. All have wisdom, entertaining anecdotes, and book recommendations to share. There are 45,000+ additional accomplished M-A alums out there, so keep an eye out for them!