Fireside Chats Installment III: Athletes and Athletics

Beginning on Oct. 30, 2014, the Echo began releasing a monthly installment featuring an interview with President David A. Greene. Each interview covers a particular topic or issue related to the Colby community. Fireside Chats is aimed at keeping the Colby community, both on and off campus, informed about President Greene’s ideas for the future of the College, as well as to provide a line of communication between Echo readers and the Administration. The editorial staff of the Echo welcomes any topics, issues, or concerns that the Colby community may want President Greene to address. To send suggestions, please e-mail Features Editor Simone Leung at skleung@colby.edu.

Echo: Could you talk a bit about the speech, Aspiring for Excellence in Athletics, that you gave over JanPlan? What was the purpose of the speech, and what topics did you address?

President Greene: Sure, so there was a group of coaches that wanted to bring student athletes together to begin talking about various leadership issues and how student athletes could think about themselves as leaders. They asked me to come and talk a little bit about how I was thinking about athletics, and how I was thinking about leadership with student athletes. That was the focus of the conversation, and there were maybe 400 to 500 students there. It was a great event.

E: Regarding the social culture surrounding athletes or athletics at Colby, what do you view as the positive aspects and the areas that need improvement?

PG: I think it’s largely a positive story. I’ve been at other colleges and universities where the integration of athletics, academics, and community is not nearly as good as it is at Colby. I love the way that athletics can create a sense of community and bring people together…. It seems to me that there are so many benefits from that, as well as for students to learn how to work together on teams,…. and to really understand the limits of their performance and their potential to excel.  Those are all areas in which our students have great opportunities and where they always show how much determination they have….

Particularly on a small campus where there are many groups, [athletes] are always noticeable…. And one of the things I said to the student athletes on that night was that it’s probably hard to recognize, but when you come in with your team, ….for some who are sitting in the dining hall, it can be threatening or seem exclusive in a way that I think students probably never envision it to be. They’re just with their friends  or just came from practice or whatever it might be. I just asked them to be open, to make sure they were always aware of those perceptions, and to make sure they were making connections across the campus. I think by and large that’s exactly what happens, but it is something we just always need to pay attention to.

E: What role do you think Colby athletes already play or should play on campus, in classes, extracurricular activities, etc?

PG: I heard our new athletic director, Tim Wheaton, say that he has disdain for the term, “student athlete,” because these are students and they play on athletic teams, but we don’t say student musicians; we don’t say student–name-your-other-area-where-students-are-engaged. I think that’s a good point because these students are just students, and they should be engaged as all students are in all the wonderful things that happen here, beginning first and foremost with their academic life and then all of the range of activities that happen here that make Colby special. So, I think that’s the thing they should be doing.

One of the things that’s given me great encouragement is watching how students who are on teams have been involved in various leadership positions—SGA, for example, and other clubs—taking leadership for things like the Colby Affirmation, and then taking a very strong leadership position on issues like violence on campus, sexual misconduct, and assault. I think that’s an area where Colby has really excelled and where teams have taken these issues, I think, increasingly seriously, and where there have been a number of students who are involved in athletics who have been very much at the forefront of making sure that we have a culture that is safe and supportive of all students. That to me is a very encouraging and important sign.

E: What are your future plans for Colby’s athletic programs and facilities? What changes are already taking place?

PG: I think we need to give our students the potential to compete at their highest level and to reach their personal potential in any way that we can. And that’s true if we’re talking about performing arts, if we’re talking about our traditional academic programs, or if we’re talking about athletics. In some areas, I think we’ve done that well; in other areas, I think we have continued work to do.

So, athletic facilities is one area where I think we cannot really compete at the highest level, and we’re not providing the infrastructure to support our students and our teams. One of the areas we’re focused on is how we think about our facilities going forward to make sure that we really do support our students who are on teams, but actually our entire community as well…. Our athletic facilities that we have now began to be built in the 1950s, it was enhanced in the 1960s, and then in decades subsequent to that. Competitive athletics has changed quite a bit during that time, but recreational athletics and fitness has changed dramatically over that period of time. Nearly all of our students use the athletic facilities at this point. Many of our faculty, staff, and members of the community use our facilities, so thinking about how we can have a set of facilities that supports our formal athletics program, but also supports all of the other kinds of needs for our community is really important.

So, we have some facilities now that are no longer useful for competitions—our indoor track, for example. Our pool is no longer able to host major competitions, because it’s not a 50 meter pool, it doesn’t have the right depth, it doesn’t have the right deck size, and other things. So I think, for us, we’re thinking about what that would be like if we had a set of facilities that really met the needs of our formal programs but also met the needs of our broader community.

One of the exciting options for me is thinking very deliberately from the beginning about athletic facilities and the way that they can also support a goal of [better] engaging the Waterville community and surrounding communities, and how we can be a place that becomes a place for health and wellness and competition for the local area. We’ve done a pretty good job of that, but we could probably do even better…. That’s one area where we’ve been focused.

There are some other areas where we need some additional attention. Let me give one as an example of something we’re working on right now. Strength and conditioning has become incredibly important in athletics and in personal fitness overall. It’s an area where we have a great coach who’s there and does this now but is totally oversubscribed in terms of the demand for her time. So we’re going to be looking for an assistant coach in that area to help out. I think the needs are so high in our community for that kind of area.

So I think as we look at staffing across areas…. the training staff is critical to the health of our students, so that’s something we have to make sure we’re paying attention to going forward. So we’ll be looking at areas of the facilities, areas of staffing support to make sure we have that, and we’re also going to open up a fundraising program for athletics to have out alums and parents and friends and others who have been interested in supporting athletics, that we make sure that we’re able to address needs and priorities for the program through that fundraising.

Comments are closed.