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The Scarlet & Black

Andy Hamilton: Grinnell’s Renaissance man

Will ’17 and Andy Hamilton ’85 enjoy a workout session on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Photograph by Joe Wlos.

Andy Hamilton ’85, the head coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams, has had years of athletic success at Grinnell. Last year, the men won its 10th consecutive Midwest Conference Championship with 22 season victories, while the women have won nine of past 10 conferences, including the last four.

But Hamilton is also a leader off the court. As a Grinnell graduate and a employee of the College for the past two decades—serving as Assistant Director of Athletics and Associate Professor of Physical Education—he embodies Grinnell’s liberal arts tradition.

“To think that I’ve been at Grinnell for a full generation of students feels weird, but it’s exciting,” Hamilton said. “It gives me a great sense of pride that I can do right by the College long enough in my career to see one of my classmate’s children as a student.”

As a member of the Class of 1985, Hamilton majored in music, earning his certificate in elementary education, and played football and tennis. He has always had a strong interest in both athletics and the arts.

“I was raised loving music, because my mom was a music teacher, and then I had a neighborhood full of kids, so I loved sports because of how often we played together,” he said.

Finding a school that embraced both of those interests was Hamilton’s primary criterion for selecting a college.

“One of the reasons that I chose Grinnell in the first place was because I thought that I could be a football player and do music, without any conflicts between the two groups,” he said. “Grinnell’s very accepting atmosphere is the reason I chose to come here.”

After graduating, he stayed in Iowa, teaching fifth-grade in Tama and working as a linebacker coach for the Pioneer football team. In 1987, the College hired him as Assistant Athletics Information Director, and for years, he helped the athletics department in a number of ways.

“In some ways, I thought that I was on track to be a head football coach, but in 1996, I took over the men’s tennis program,” Hamilton said. “I was really excited about the opportunity to be a head coach. For 11 years, I watched and learned from a lot of people, and I was very interested.”

Through the years, his love of music never diminished, however, and an opportunity to help a professor save a musical production helped him start a family.

“The predecessor to Professor John Rommereim [Music] was a guy named Jim Fudge. His expertise was one-act opera,” Hamilton said. “In the winter of 1989, he called me and said that he had a problem. One of the students who was supposed to play a part in the opera had backed out, and he asked if I would consider doing it. I said sure—it would be fun. It turns out that the woman who played my opposite was Sarah Perish. She was a student, and for six or seven weeks we did the opera, and we got to know each other.”

Hamilton says that it took “a lot of gumption” to ask Sarah out on a date, but he had plenty of motivation—to this day, he speaks admiringly of her: “She’s an amazing soprano.”

After several years of dating, Andy and Sarah married, and they now have two children–Lily, who attends Grinnell-Newburg High School, and Will, a first-year at the College. Both Lily and Will carry on their parents’ interest in athletics and the fine arts. Lily is the lead in the high school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” and Will is a percussionist and tennis player, with his dad as his coach.

“It’s natural,” Will Hamilton said. “It doesn’t feel like anything has changed. He taught me how to play tennis growing up. He’s always been my coach.”

Will ’17 and Andy Hamilton ’85 enjoy a workout session on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Photograph by Joe Wlos.
Will ’17 and Andy Hamilton ’85 enjoy a workout session on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Photograph by Joe Wlos.

Andy Hamilton has also always been a teacher. Last year, he taught a tutorial titled “The Black Athlete: Changing 20th Century Society,” one of the first tutorials run by the athletics department in decades. He greatly enjoyed the class, and he looks forward to further developing his academic role.

Grinnell has a long history of family coaching legacies, notably the Arseneault duo in men’s basketball and the Freeman family in cross country, track and field and diving. With Hamilton’s current success, and his son’s interest in coaching, they may be the next family to carry on the tradition.

“One time we had a conversation about what I want to do when I grow up,” Will said. “And I mentioned that I might want to become a coach. He said, ‘That would be great, because you never work a day in your life.’ He’s got a really great job, and he’s had a great time in Grinnell.”

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