Chad Bridges has been playing soccer since he was 6 years old, but he never expected that the sport would lead him to teaching.
Bridges had just finished coaching his team through a championship game when he was approached by a player’s father: Dr. William Hawkey, dean of faculty at The Pennington School, Bridges’ alma mater.
When Hawkey asked if Bridges had ever been interested in teaching, Bridges, who at the time was working in securities law, realized he had never explicitly thought about it, but the idea slowly been growing on him.
“I found that I loved coaching and working with students so much that I wanted to find out how I could make this a full-time job,” Bridges says.
That year—2006—he was back at Pennington after graduating a decade before. He taught middle school social studies and coached the middle school soccer team and the high school varsity basketball team.
“It was the best decision I’d ever made, obviously, because I’m still here and I love what I do,” Bridges says. Though his role at Pennington has changed, and he does not teach as many classes, his position as dean of students and head coach of the varsity soccer team puts him in constant contact with students, which he says is the most valuable part of being a teacher and mentor.
Last month, the team was named the preseason No. 1 team in the nation by topdrawersoccer.com. As of Sept. 20, the team had lost its first game of the season and had a 1-1 record.
Bridges credits his passion for working with students to his mother. For over 40 years, Carol Bridges taught in various public elementary schools in Ewing. Bridges says her love of teaching was always palpable.
“I remember summers going to Antheil and Parkway and helping her set up the classroom, thinking that was just the coolest thing,” Bridges says.
Bridges’ late father, Al, was in politics as far back as Bridges can remember. He was a part of the Ewing Township Committee and became the town’s mayor in 1990 when committee members rotated mayor and deputy mayor positions.
In 1994, he became the town’s first directly elected mayor when the township changed to a mayor-council form of government, and he was re-elected in 1998. He was also the vice president of The College of New Jersey throughout his time in politics.
“The one thing that I will say is that he was at all my brother’s games, he was at all of my games: he made time for that,” Bridges says.
Bridges accompanied his father to various political engagements and remembers watching the debates while his father was running for office.
Though Bridges studied political science, he has no plans to ever enter the political scene.
“Teaching is fine. Running for office? No thanks,” Bridges says with a laugh. “I like coaching. There’s enough politics in coaching sometimes.”
Bridges was also strongly influenced by his older brother, Wes. The two played West End soccer together, which was Ewing’s travel program at the time, and gave Bridges a strong foundation in soccer.
Wes, who is five years older, eventually quit soccer and instead received many accolades as a student athlete on the Ewing High School football and baseball teams.
“He bleeds Ewing blue,” chuckles Bridges. “He was doing amazing things at Ewing.” Wes ended up attending Rutgers, where he captained the football team.
Though Bridges attended Lore Elementary School, he started The Pennington School as a 7th grader.
“My brother was a very well-known student athlete in Ewing, and I kind of wanted to blaze my own path,” Bridges says. “My brother encouraged me to follow my dreams and do what I wanted to do.”
Bridges greatly valued Pennington’s smaller size that allowed him to thrive. He found that feature at Drew University as well, and in addition the university fulfilled his desire of staying in New Jersey for college.
At Drew, he was a four-year starter for the soccer team and eventually captained the team in his senior year, in addition to playing on the basketball team throughout his four years. He graduated in 2000 with degrees in sociology and political science.
Bridges was accepted into several law schools, but he decided to forego being an attorney. For almost five years after college, he worked in securities law for Bloomberg. In the meantime, together with friend Rob Marino a decade ago, he co-founded Next Level Soccer Academy, a travel club for boys and girls from Mercer, Bucks and Hunterdon counties.
“We’re very fortunate to have some outstanding coaches, like Brian Thomsen and Whitney Lewis, who are both Ewing residents,” Bridges says. “Being a part of that—it’s helped me as a coach.” It was at one of these NLSA tournaments that Bridges connected with Hawkey and started teaching at Pennington.
In 2010, Bridges was made head coach of the high school varsity boys’ soccer team. In that time, he helped the team earn Mercer County Tournament titles in 2012, 2015 and 2016. He led his team to victory in the Prep A State Championships for the first time last year, shattering St. Benedict’s 27-year hold on the title and propelling the Pennington boys’ team to a preseason ranking of number 1 in the nation. This is especially striking considering the boys had a 2014 season record of 4 wins and 14 losses.
Besides having a team with incredible synergy and strong teamwork, Bridges credits Pennington’s stronger emphasis on diversity for bringing in national and international soccer talent. This change has come about through Sharon Jarboe, Pennington’s director of admissions since 2014, “who in my opinion is one of the best admissions directors in the country,” Bridges says, because she has guided Pennington in ushering in a new standard of diversity in the student body.
“She tasked all of us—all of the faculty and staff—to look beyond where we’re at right now and to start thinking, how can we become even better?” Bridges says, which he explains has resulted in higher diversity not just on the sports fields, but in classrooms and on the theater stage as well.
Besides starting his eighth season as head coach this fall and continuing his role as dean of students, Bridges will hold several other positions including assistant headmaster for community life and director of residential life. Occasionally he still teaches classes.
“It’s difficult for me to teach as much now,” Bridges says, citing his many roles on campus. “When I can get in a classroom, I certainly do teach, whether that’s a public speaking class or a history class.”
Bridges currently lives in Pennington with his wife, Erica, and two children. Erica is a co-founder of Pretty in Paint Parties, a business that supplies canvases, art supplies and an artist for parties, letting attendees relax and enjoy each other company as they paint.
The couple’s daughter, Skye, is six years old and will be going back to Toll Gate Elementary School as a first grader. Bridges’ son, Drew, is 12 and will be starting sixth grade at The Pennington School. He is hoping to play football, like his uncle Wes.
“Pennington is where I went to school, it’s where I live now, it’s where I work, but Ewing—I was basically born and raised in Ewing, and that will always be home to me.”