“Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat” is a motto not taken lightly by student-athletes at The Bolles School. From the outside looking in, The Bolles athletic program is decorated with countless championships, gold medals, and a fierce domination in almost every sport. They continually produce collegiate athletes, professional athletes, and Olympians alike.
According to their website, The Bolles athletic program has earned 149 team state titles with 96 state runner-up finishes in 17 different sports as well as 509 team district titles in 24 different sports.
Girls soccer won five state championships in the last nine years while simultaneously winning at the district level four times in the last five years.
Girls swimming has won every year since 1991, and boys swimming has won every year since 1988.
Boys cross country has won three state championships in the last five years and qualified for nationals twice. Girls cross country has dominated with 13 state championships since the inception of the program and won district championships every year since 2008.
🗣 NEW STATE RECORD@BollesSchool girls win the 2A team title with 18 points – the lowest team score for any boys and girls Florida team at the State meet!! They eclipse the 2018 Bolles boys team that scored 21 points to win two years ago.
— Florida Runners (@flrunners) November 15, 2020
Football has laid claim to 11 state championships since the program’s first win in 1975 and won 32 district championships.
The program has a reputation for making its mark in the pros as well.
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is one of many Bolles alumni who is making his name known in the NFL. At 23 years old, Jones was the first-round draft pick in 2021, landing the starting quarterback position for the Patriots.
While at the University of Alabama, Jones dominated as the starting quarterback, becoming Alabama’s all-time single season passing yardage leader with 4,500 yards in 2020. He is the winner of the Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, and Manning awards while also being selected as one of four Heisman Trophy finalists.
While at The Bolles School, Jones ranked as the No. 4 overall quarterback prospect in Florida by Scout. As a senior, Jones helped lead the team to the Class 4A Florida High School Football State Championship game, passing for 1,532 yards and 29 touchdowns.
— BollesBoysBasketball (@BollesBoys) August 31, 2021
Football is not the only sport at Bolles with a long history of wins. Since 1995, Bolles girls golf has dominated in the district championships, racking up 21 wins. Girls golf has won almost every year since the start of the program and has produced elite stars in the process.
Bolles alumna and LPGA professional Amelia Lewis has consistently broken ground since 2010. Lewis, a Jacksonville native, was the first to be exempt from the LPGA Tour in almost 30 years and held cards for both the LCPA Tour and European Ladies Tour.
Since turning pro, she has achieved 10 top-10 finishes and 17 top-15 results on the LPGA and Ladies European Tours. Lewis has won over 57 titles in her junior, amateur, and professional careers. Just a year after graduating from The Bolles School, Lewis stamped her career with a win at the North and South Women’s Amateur. Later that year, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and went on to upset top-seeded player Danielle Kang in first-round match play.
Another Bolles sport that is matching the play of its opponents is the Bolles Sharks swim club, which is home to some of the most accomplished Olympic swimmers in the world. The program has laid claim to 17 national titles, with nine coming from the girls team and eight coming from the boys team.
— The Bolles School (@BollesSchool) November 8, 2021
Since 1972, Bolles has had a total of 63 swimmers represented at each Olympics, including 14 Olympic medalists winning a total of 29 medals, 18 of which are gold according to the athletic program’s website.
Ryan Murphy is the owner of six of those medals. Murphy participated in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, medaling three out of the four events he competed in. He also competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, winning gold in every event that he competed in.
Murphy closed out his career at UC Berkeley with NCAA titles in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, becoming the fourth swimmer in history to sweep both distances with one stroke all four years.
At Bolles, Murphy was a 15-time Class 1A Florida High School Swimming State Champion. He also set the national high school record in the 100-meter backstroke.
6x Olympic medalist Ryan Murphy '13 returned to campus today to speak to the swim team about preparing for state and his experience at the Tokyo Olympics. #TraditionNeverGraduates pic.twitter.com/KSYBvFxtsL
— The Bolles School (@BollesSchool) October 22, 2021
Although head swim coach Peter Veroef is proud of the athletic program’s traditions, there is not as big of a focus on winning at the school as it appears.
“In swimming and diving, we talk a lot about being the best team possible… focusing on being the best we can each day and setting goals that challenge us,” said Veroef. “I think a lot of other teams at Bolles are the same way. Because we focus on excellence with the student-athletes in front of us, it gives them the power to step up and perform because they want to, not because there is pressure from the past.”
The Bolles School athletic program is marked by the historical athletic success of its student-athletes throughout the years. Matt Morris, the Bolles athletic director, has seen the school’s history of rich tradition and consistent success since 1982. He believes the dominating spirit of the athletic program and contribution to its legacy is largely due to its student-athletes.
“They take the same approach in everything they do,” said Morris. “They’re easy to coach, they show up, they work hard. … They listen, they learn, they perform. It’s always helpful as a coach when you have kids that are committed to your program, and not only are they committed to the program, but they’re committed to the academic regime. … Our admissions process is based on your ability to come here and succeed academically, so we have really smart, really motivated kids that are competitive not just in their extracurricular activities, but also in the classroom.”
Commitment to athletics and academics is not the only attribute that aids in the athletic program’s success. Another contributing factor is the unique culture. Success is not just a staple characteristic found in sports. It’s found in every classroom and extracurricular activity, according to Morris.
“We probably have close to 80% average over 30 years of kids participating in at least one sport, and they’re also taking part in other extracurricular activities too,” said Morris. “We just have a very high, overachieving student body that get along well together and work toward common goals. Everything they do, they try to do to the best of their ability, and they have the right people in the right places to help them do that. It’s a culture not just for athletics but for everything.”
Student-athletes who play multiple sports or have experience playing in major competitions learn vital lessons that aid in their success down the road. Their experience builds tradition within the athletic program and at The Bolles School.
“Experience is a great teacher, and we’re able to provide that for them consistently through the years,” said Morris. “At some point as you have more success, you build traditions in your athletic programs and on your athletic teams. … We’re getting to the point now where you have younger brothers and sisters that want to follow in the footsteps of their older siblings. The tradition has been around so long of success that they take pride in being able to meet or exceed some of the successes of past teams.”
REMEMBER WHEN? Coach Don Suriano’s Bulldog Baseball team defeats Clermont 8-2 in the Class 2A State Championship game for the first title in program history. #BulldogProud #TraditionNeverGraduates #BollesAlumni pic.twitter.com/jHcrmQRHNa
— The Bolles School (@BollesSchool) September 16, 2021
Success at The Bolles School is a pillar in the athletic program. Morris argues that the journey to success is more important and that disappointment is part of it.
“It’s about the journey; it’s about learning and getting better whether you win or lose,” said Morris. “It’s how you deal with disappointment. The most important thing is making sure the experience they have is the best for the group and the best for the individual. You have to keep everything in perspective, and keeping it fun is part of it.If you can’t help student-athletes in high school enjoy what they’re doing and have some fun while they’re working hard, you’re not going to be successful. If they’re not happy, they’re not going to perform.”
It takes a village to produce thriving, well-rounded student-athletes. Verhoef believes treating student-athletes as a whole person rather than just an athlete builds character and success.
“Speaking for swimming and diving, we focus on the whole student-athlete: performances, fulfillment in the sport, and working as a team,” said Verhoef. “A lot of our coaches are the same way. Their programs are focused on the whole human, not just the player or athlete. It is really important to us as coaches that we empower the students to be successful, not simply manage them to win. Being a coach here means we not only coach better and work harder than anyone, we also work to connect and care more.”
Morris believes that the support shown for athletics is a major contribution to their accomplishments as a department.
“The reason all that’s possible is because we have a board of trustees, our school administration, and our academic arms all support athletics,” said Morris . “Everybody works together, and it’s a really special place. It all sounds simple in that regard, but it’s not. It’s hard to keep that relationship between committed parents, committed administration, committed board, good coaches and teachers that stay, and then kids that are hardworking. Being successful in athletics has to be important to all those people.”
Each win contributes to the growing legacy of the Bolles athletic program. Verhoef believes that everyday acts of leadership are most important.
“Tradition is a big word at Bolles,” said Verhoef. “We see so much of it across all aspects of the school. Parents of current students attended here, former student-athletes are Olympians and professionals, and teachers here have spanned multiple generations of families. Tradition and legacy is almost anywhere we look. It’s easy to say that and feel a burden or pressure to perform, but starting with our leadership, Tyler Hodges as the president of the school and Matt Morris as our Athletic Director, they don’t focus on the legacy, only on, ‘What can we do better today?’ We can only build on our legacy by challenging ourselves to be better. We say it in swimming: We want to be the best at getting better. In contrast, we don’t want to be the best because that’s who we have been.”
Written by: MC Bell