Brett Confer, speaker Capt. William Reynolds and Fred Confer at Hopewell Valley Golf and Country Club for the April 29, 2018 meeting of the Hopewell Valley Leadership Group.

Early last year two junior football league coaches, Carl Hartman and Fred Confer, were dismayed to learn from Hopewell Valley Regional High School’s varsity head football coach, Dave Caldwell, that his players were valuing individual accomplishments over team building.

“Dave was very frustrated with the seniors that year, how they felt entitled and were not stepping up for underclassmen, and acted like ‘I’m great, I don’t need to practice,’” Hartman says.

As the three men talked more, Confer pointed to a gap that was contributing to the problem. “We tell the kids they have to be a better leader, but we don’t give them the tools, the stories, the content,” Confer says. “To me leadership is such a personal and dynamic thing; you have to give them inspiration and help them out.”

To help resolve these issues, the three men decided to jointly create a course teaching leadership to athletes from the double perspectives of service and responsibility. The goal, Hartman says, is to convey “the idea of leadership being a service: I am a leader so I have an obligation to give back, teach people below me, and model good behavior. I am responsible for others, not just for myself — pulling them out of their own egos. It isn’t [that] they are most important person — the team is most important.”

They put together a basic curriculum to share with athletes the principles of leadership and the importance of self-knowledge as well as “exposing them to a series of local leaders, people who had a special story to tell,” Confer says.

“Why not take all resources we have and try to enrich the lives of our students,” Caldwell says.

In the first meeting, the athletes each complete an Enneagram, a personality profiling technique. “The more you can understand about yourself, the better leader you can be: strengths, weaknesses, where you need to advance and grow,” Hartman says.

Caldwell

Course speakers this year have ranged from sports psychologist Lee Picariello, who spoke about being confident in one’s ability, making great effort, maximizing strengths, and overcoming adversity, to founder and CEO of the Trenton advertising agency EFK Group Eleanor Kubacki, who talked about the courage needed for successful leadership, to Cal Quinn, who spoke about making tough choices and having empathy. The Hopewell Valley Golf and Country Club provides them with a room and setup for the course meetings, and during their last meeting the young athletes will “give back” by helping to clean pool furniture.

Each athlete was also asked to interview a leader. Sharing what they learned at the April 29 event, students talked about leading by example, being a teacher, helping others be successful, getting your team or group on the same path, following your compassion, and motivating people.

One person interviewed was Hopewell Valley school board president Alyce Murray, whose son, Steven Doldy, is a Hopewell Valley Central High School junior who plays lacrosse, ice hockey, and football. She says about the conversation, “I felt like I had a lot to offer him—things I wish I had known when I was their age.” She mentions in particular “how important it is to fail and let it roll off your back and that you need to be outside the comfort zone, [because] all the good stuff is out there.”

The speaker, Capt. William B. Reynolds, reviewed the leadership lessons shared by the previous speakers and spoke about how they related to his own life. Severely injured by an IED, or improvised explosive device, in Iraq, Reynolds mentioned in particular an important leadership skill he used on the battlefield.

Noting that too much confidence and too little fear are blinding, whereas too little confidence and too much fear are crippling, he says, “What I often did in a combat scenario was to identify people who were acting overconfident and overfearful because they could lead to adverse things.”

Speaking to his biggest challenge as a leader today, Reynolds says that often leaders have their own “vision of where they want to take an organization an can’t see eye to eye with other leaders who have a different vision. “There’s no sense of compromising [in order] to have a new vision and a new direction,” he says.

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Caldwell grew up in Rome, New York, where his father was a butcher and his mother was in insurance. A basketball and football player, he recalls “amazing and inspiring coaches, who were extraordinarily passionate and knowledgeable, and highly involved in the community. They got to know me not only as an athlete but as a student and a person.”

Caldwell majored in psychology and special education at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, where he played division I-AA football.

After graduation in 1994 he spent three years in Oahu, at a special school for children with oppositional-defiant disorder. “I enjoyed the whole experience, from teaching to surfing to triathlons and marathons and friendships and the whole Aloha culture,” he says.

He then moved stateside and worked for a year at Washington Academy in Cedar Grove. After moving to Hopewell, he worked for three years in the Montgomery schools. In 2002 he moved to Hopewell Valley Regional High School as its first football coach since the reinstatement of football.

His son Chris, 20, played lacrosse and football at the high school; he now attends the U.S. Naval Academy, where he plays club lacrosse. His son Mike, 18, played football at the high school and will play in the fall for The College of New Jersey. His son Luke, 11, plays football and lacrosse and his daughter, Danielle, 9, plays lacrosse and participates in theater. His nephew, Elijah-Blu Wilmott, 18, lives with his family and played football at the high school; in the fall he will play football for Gettysburg College. His wife, Lourdes Caldwell, works in human resources for Cenlar.

Hartman

Carl Hartman, CEO of the global integrated marketing agency Red Fuse Communications, grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a neighborhood on Lookout Mountain. His mother has her own consultancy in the grant-writing area, and his father is a retired attorney and judge.

Hartman played football in high school at Chattanooga’s all-male McCauley School, “a prep school that had a military focus.” For college, went to UCLA, where he earned an undergraduate degree in English.

After working in entertainment and advertising, for Disney and Motown Productions, he earned an MBA in 1991, focused on marketing, also at UCLA.

After graduating he got six offers from advertising agencies and accepted a job with one of the units of Red Fuse. He met his wife in advertising, and once they had their first child, they decided to move to the suburbs. Looking for good public schools, they ended up in Hopewell.

As a CEO, he has personally been through leadership courses and taught leadership. “Being a CEO, that’s a lot of what they do,” he says.

Hartman’s children, Hudson, 15, and Wyatt, 13, both play football and lacrosse, and Hudson also wrestles. His wife, Jamie, is getting her master’s in marriage and family counseling from The College of New Jersey.

Fred Confer, director of user experience and analytics at Bristol-Myers Squibb, grew up largely in Voorhees, in South Jersey, where his father was in software sales and his mother an administrator.

He graduated from La Salle University in Philadelphia, with a degree in marketing. While working in staffing, he came across groundbreaking software — “one of the first artificial intelligence engines that could contextually read a resume.” This was in the 1990’s, when fax machines turned out thousands of resumes a day, and “all the Fortune 500 companies were buying it” and looking for people to implement it.

After serving as a consultant to some large companies, he eventually transitioned away from human resources, did a lot of work in financial services, and eventually moved into product and program management, where he led large projects like introducing new websites and trading apps.

He lived largely in Westfield, an easy commute to Manhattan, but once he and his wife decided to start a family, they moved to Hopewell, which was closer to his wife’s family. She quickly quickly found a job in pharma, but he had a two-hour commute, one way, so he got a job at Bristol-Myers Squibb.” He has been a protocol manager and a clinical project manager, running clinical trials in the immunology space.

“One reason I wanted to get out of financial services and get into pharma: I wanted to contribute in a way that would help society,” he says. “I could deliver awesome trading apps, but nothing is more satisfying than knowing you are running a project that has the potential to deliver medicine to people who have an unmet medical need and you can change their lives in a positive way.”

Confer has two sons, Brett, 16, who plays football and lacrosse, and Cam, 14, who plays lacrosse and soccer. His wife, Stacy Confer, is director of quality and inspection readiness at BMS.

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The course is a work in progress. “We are always in beta. We are trying to get better every year,” Hartman says.

Confer takes the long view of the course’s effectiveness. “I know some of this may be falling on naïve ears, but I think these kids are picking up some really good things, and I hope they carry it forward.”

Although they have done no formal assessment of how much the young athletes have absorbed, Confer says that they have gotten only positive feedback. “I don’t think you can measure them on the day they leave; you have to look at them and how they perform over time,” he says.

Murray thinks the course has been helpful for her son by forcing to get out and talk in front of a group and talk, but also giving him an opportunity to “listen to what other leaders think of leadership and how they promote it.” She suggests that “having all this information and growing through this process” likely increased his self-confidence, which will serve him well as ice hockey captain next year.

She would like to see the program expand to more students. “I think there are a lot of kids who are on the cusp of understanding why they need to come early, give their all in every practice, every minute, every game. Some kids skate by and don’t realize how many opportunities they are passing up on because they are not showing it every time,” she says.