Ask Master Teacher, P.E. instructor, and coach Bob Ulrich what he is most proud of over his 34-year career at Colorado Academy, and he’ll tell you, “students, students, students.”
The thousand-plus wins across the four Varsity sports he’s coached at CA—Volleyball, Baseball, Basketball, and Tennis—certainly matter a great deal, but it’s the relationships, the trust and rapport he’s built with generations of Mustangs, that rise above everything else as he reflects on his retirement this year.
“The alumni athletes who come back to visit during their breaks, or after they graduate from college,” says Ulrich, “the ones who bring their families back to campus, or those who call me, text me, and email me to ask, ‘How’s it going? Anything I can do for you?’—that’s how I measure the success of my time here.”
And in teaching and coaching hundreds of CA athletes, Ulrich has always given out the same advice: “Later in life, you’re going to remember an incredible win, maybe a tough, devastating loss. But you’ll remember so many more experiences with people—all the bus rides, hotel stays, team dinners. Those are what you’ll actually take with you and cherish, far beyond the wins and the losses.”
Indeed, those are the kinds of experiences that define Ulrich’s legacy at CA. There’s a saying in his family: “People show you who they are every day; believe them.” Every day, Coach Bob has made believers out of so many students and colleagues, celebrating the joy of movement and human connections, whether through physical fitness or a championship game.
Reflecting on Ulrich’s impact on the school, Head of School Dr. Mike Davis says, “Bob is 100% real, 100% authentic, and has given CA 100% for 34 years. He has truly invested his life in our community.”
Ulrich adds, “Our students deserve that.”
Bringing back Baseball
With a little coaxing, Ulrich admits there are a few other things about his time at CA he’s proud of. There’s the Baseball program, which he revived after a 20-year hiatus.
Ulrich had been a baseball player and fan since age six, staying up late to listen to Harry Caray and Jack Buck call St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio. But when he arrived at CA in 1989, he found P.E. and athletics programs that in some ways lagged behind the school’s highly regarded academics and “incredible” fine arts, led at the time by Angel Vigil. Early in his first year, he went to then-Headmaster Frank Wallace and asked him why CA hadn’t had a Baseball program for two decades.
“We’re a lacrosse school, not a baseball school,” Ulrich recalls Wallace explaining. Asked to elaborate, Wallace continued, “We don’t have the clientele, and we don’t have the students who are interested in baseball.”
Ulrich got Wallace to agree to let him try to field a team anyway, and the coach was able to recruit more than enough players to compete that spring. But finding a place to play was a challenge in the first few years Ulrich coached the sport. The team was given a spot on what is now Firman Field—at the time little more than a dusty hayfield known as “the Desert.”
“We would hit foul balls over Pierce Street, and they would land where Slater Turf Field is now, but at the time was still a horse pasture. The balls would land in the mud and you’d just see them sink down and disappear. We went through a lot of baseballs,” Ulrich recalls.
Eventually, the team was allowed to level the Desert and put up a backstop, and baseball has been going strong at CA ever since. In spring 2023, four teams ranging from Sixth Grade to Varsity were active out on CA’s Baseball Field near Woody’s Pond.
Doing it all
Revitalizing the Baseball program starting in his first year at CA is just one of Coach Bob’s gifts to the school. A multi-sport athlete when he was growing up, Ulrich took on the leadership of both Boys Basketball and Girls Volleyball programs at the very same time. The two sports regularly attracted enough players to field four high school teams each, and Ulrich is pleased to see that both programs remain robust today.
“We always did well,” he says. “But now we seem to be doing even better. The talent pool has improved and increased as our student enrollment has increased, which has been helpful.”
Later on, Ulrich moved from Baseball to Girls Tennis, where he’s been helping players thrive for the past 20 years. When his own baseball career finally ended in his mid-20s, Ulrich picked up tennis and fell in love with the game. Now, he shares that passion, as each year promising young players take to Stuie’s Courts under his wise and generous eye.
He feels lucky, he says, to have those eight high-quality courts at his disposal. Installed in 2007 with the support of donations from many CA families, Stuie’s Courts might be “one of the best high school tennis venues in the entire state,” he attests.
Ulrich has brought the same enthusiasm and dedication to CA’s P.E. program, which over the past three decades he’s helped to build into a diverse and welcoming experience for the youngest of the school’s athletes.
He developed his approach to physical education when he first began teaching in the early 1980s, and ensured it came with him when he signed on with CA: Every student should come to P.E. with a smile and, at the end of class, should leave with the same smile, or one that is even bigger.
“We hope to offer experiences that all students can benefit from and enjoy,” Ulrich says. “We want the kids we teach to finish their CA careers enthusiastic about movement; it has so many benefits mentally, emotionally, and physically. So each day we expose them to something different, so they can always learn something new, either about themselves, cooperation, teamwork, or communication.”
Describing his own formative experiences in elementary and middle school P.E. classes as “horrible,” he explains, “I told myself when I first started that I didn’t ever want anyone to feel that way.” That they emphatically do not is clear whenever Ulrich walks a class group to or from CA’s Athletic Center: Inevitably his youngest students compete for the chance to hold his hand.
Along with former Athletic Director Bill Hall, Ulrich is responsible for expanding CA’s program to include kinesiology, the study of movement. Not long after Hall came to CA in 2011, the two became interested in adding additional time in the schedule for Lower Schoolers to get out of the classroom and do something physical. They landed on the idea of focusing on concepts such as biomechanics, strength and conditioning, sport psychology, motor control, and sport and exercise physiology—all parts of kinesiology—one day a week. With the arrival of P.E. Director and coach Sean Stedeford, that emphasis has only deepened.
Offering CA’s Lower and Middle School students such a varied and robust program comes with a host of benefits, according to Ulrich.
“Bringing kids at an early age over to our Athletic Center, taking them out on the fields—these are ways that they start to see all the things that CA has to offer,” he says. “That’s one of the great things about the school. We get to see students starting in Pre-K, watching them progress from year to year as their love for movement grows. When they reach Sixth Grade and start playing on our Middle School teams, many of them begin thinking about what it would be like to represent CA on one of our Upper School teams. Their eyes just light up.”
Let the games continue
Still, even with a long list of accomplishments—not to mention a trophy cabinet full of league recognitions in addition to CA’s Yoeman Fisher Award for Teaching Excellence—Ulrich doesn’t see his work as complete, not even as he winds up his final year at CA.
“I continue to grow as a teacher and coach. I’ve never been that person who’s just complacent, satisfied, ‘let’s do the status quo.’ No one in our department is. We’re always looking for ways to be innovative, stay current, be modern in our approach.”
Why such dedication? Because, Ulrich insists, the stakes are high. “For so many kids, P.E. leads into athletics, it leads into dance, it leads into yoga. As a school, CA stands for the whole student.”
He describes a favorite photo of his oldest son, Gavin, who graduated as a member of the Class of 2002. In it, he’s sitting at a classroom desk, pondering the next line in an essay he’s working on. One arm rests on a soccer ball—he was part of two State Championship-winning CA squads—and beside him on top of the desk is his flute, which he’ll be playing during a lesson later that day.
It’s a classic image, a virtual advertisement for CA’s approach, argues Ulrich. “The joy of movement and sport is so central to the experience here—just as much as academics and the arts. That’s why this is such a special place, and why I’ve been here as long as I have.”
A lifelong numbers guy, Ulrich says there are a few that are significant to him now: 3, 5, 23, 34, and 42. Three full decades at CA; five different decades touched during his teaching career; 2023 and the legendary Michael Jordan’s number 23 jersey; Ulrich’s years at CA and Gavin’s Varsity Basketball number 34 jersey; and 42 years of teaching in total, as well as the jersey number of the great Jackie Robinson, “the baseball player I most admire for all he did on and off the field,” he explains.
“These numbers all align in their own way, which makes this a good time for me to retire,” says Ulrich. Yet he plans to be on campus often in the coming years, subbing in P.E. when needed and continuing to coach if possible. And he’ll remain a multi- sport competitor, playing golf and pickle- ball, going fly fishing, and tending to the yard work.
His wife, Jeanne, has plans for him, too. Her “bucket list” for the two of them includes visiting Petra, the famous city carved into the mountains of Jordan; seeing the Northern Lights; visiting the Vatican and the Grand Canyon; touring the redwood forests of California; and cruising the Northeastern seaboard.
Probably most of all, Ulrich will relish spending more time with a growing family that now includes grandkids. If his long run at CA is any measure, it’s the ability to hold tight to human connections that will continue to define the gifts—both given and received—of Coach Bob.