My View from South Hill
Friday, June 12, 2009
I am often asked what the most surprising discovery or insight has been during my first year as college president. In a place as rich in surprise as Ithaca College, I would hesitate to single out just one thing. But, as my first year at IC winds down, I'd like to devote my next few posts to identifying some of my "aha!" moments from the past nine months.
One of the revelations of my inaugural year has been how central sports competition is to the lives of many of our students. Well over half of Ithaca students participate in recreational sports, and our men's and women's intercollegiate teams excel across the board.
The first inkling of this "aha!" moment came at the annual hall of fame induction ceremony and dinner this past fall. Alumni athletes spoke in vivid and moving detail about their coaches, their teammates, and the discipline required to excel both in their studies and in their sport. Each inductee attributed his or her success in later life to lessons and habits learned on the practice field and in competition.
Our alumni athletes still follow the Bombers, and smile with approval at our continued tradition of sports excellence. The list of accomplishments from this year alone is dizzying:
- Ithaca won 12 Empire 8 titles, including a clean sweep in men's and women's cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field.
- Of our 24 teams eligible for national playoff competition, 16 reached the playoffs this year. The gymnastics team placed fifth in its championship meet, women's crew was fourth in the NCAA national championship, and the women's swimming and diving team placed 13th in the NCAA championships.
- The women's soccer team reached the NCAA quarterfinals, the men's basketball team won a school-record 24 games, and the men's tennis team won a school-record 17 matches.
- Individually, Sean Burton was an All-American men's basketball player and Lauren Botterbusch was an All-American swimmer in four different events.
It's been enough to send me home hoarse from cheering on more than one occasion. And, while winning is fun, I cheer all the harder because I know our student-athletes are able to keep balance in their lives. Last fall, 136 student athletes gained Empire 8 Presidents' List honors, maintaining a GPA of 3.75 or better. (The spring semester Presidents' List will be released in a few weeks.) Seventeen of our 26 intercollegiate teams gained Presidents' List distinction by maintaining a team GPA of 3.2 or better. Excellence in sports and excellence in academics go hand in hand: Frances Ente was not only an All-American gymnast, but she was also named an academic All-American.
This morning Ithaca College announced completion of over $50 million in fund-raising for a new athletics and events center, on which we will break ground next week. The A&E center will offer a state-of-the-art facility for many of our teams as well as the largest venue in the region for community events. When the building is completed, two years from now, our athletes will be able to practice and compete in a facility that is nationally recognized, just as their own performances are.
College sports is sometimes criticized as being overly commercialized or as diluting the educational mission of higher education. At Ithaca College, we have a holistic approach to education that stresses intellect, creativity, and character. We also believe that learning is effectively accomplished in many venues in addition to the classroom and laboratory. Our students develop their commitment to excellence and to lifelong learning in the studio and on stage, in the business school's trading room and in service to community organizations, through internships and through leadership in student groups. And, to a greater degree than I had appreciated at the beginning of the year, they learn through sports competition. Just ask our hall of fame alumni!
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