Founder’s Day and W&L Athletics: What do they have in common?

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By: Jan Hathorn
Athletic Director

An excerpt from some prepared remarks for a Founder’s Day event in Columbia, SC.:

One of my favorite duties as Director of Athletics, is to tell the story of our department and the philosophy behind what we do. Driving down here today, I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that tonight we’re celebrating Founder’s Day/R. E. Lee’s birthday, but also we are honoring the many enduring values that R. E. Lee instilled in W&L.  Additionally, President Obama will be delivering his “State of the Union” address this evening. Although I don’t presume to be giving an “address”, nor do I believe that what I’m speaking about is remotely as important as what’s happening in our government today, I did find it a funny coincidence that it has been my plan to speak to you about what R. E. Lee and the W&L Athletics department have in common, as well as to highlight the “State of the Athletics Department” tonight.

During the 24 years I’ve been at W&L, I’ve been privileged to see a lot of change in the University, as well as in the Athletics department.  Here’s a brief chronology of the change that I have seen and experienced in athletics.

• When I was hired in 1987 to become the first women’s soccer coach and to establish the women’s lacrosse program, W&L’s first coeducational class was two years old and there were four sports for women (tennis, swimming, XC, and golf) and 13 sports for men.

• Fourteen years later, in 2002, when then- Athletics Director Mike Walsh removed my soccer coaching duties and promoted me into the position of Assistant Director of Athletics / Director of Physical Education, we had 23 teams – 12 for men and 11 for women.

• In 2007, I was given the opportunity to become the Director of Athletics and become the first ever female AD in W&L’s history.

• And in 2011, we added our 24th sport – women’s golf.

In my opinion, all of this change is for the good and has improved the overall quality of the University and the athletics program.  And that’s because the change has constantly been measured against the high standards and principles of leadership, integrity, honor, and excellence, the very tenets for which Robert E. Lee is known.

When I accepted the job as Director of Athletics, I did so with the clear understanding that I have a very large responsibility before me – to maintain a program of athletics that has been high-achieving for an exceptional length of time. (Or you might catch me saying in my more private moments – it’s my job to make sure I don’t screw this up!) As a woman leader in a man’s world, it has been a challenge to put some of our alums minds and expectations at ease and to help them try to understand that I am indeed hell-bent on making sure we maintain our tradition of excellence. And as easy as that may sound, I learned in my days as a coach that it is one thing to build a program; it’s a whole other thing to build a program that maintains excellence on a daily basis.  The seemingly small difference between good enough and excellence is actually a very wide chasm that takes diligent, vigilant and intentional work to overcome. I am committed to doing this work and so are the coaches whom I oversee.

This is where the Athletics Department has so much in common with R. E. Lee.  The philosophy of our department is based on four things: leadership, honor (or respect), integrity and excellence.

1.) Leadership
It is safe to say, that of the many principles that define Washington and Lee – the institution as well as both of the men – leadership is very probably the one characteristic that we most espouse. W&L’s reputation for developing leaders and leadership is renowned.  And I’m proud to say this tradition of leadership is alive and well and of great importance to me and to our coaches today.  Those of you who are athletes, (or former athletes, if you’re my age!), know first-hand that athletics participation helps to shape leaders and leadership qualities.   And our student-athletes today continue to be shaped by their sport experiences and thus continue to lead in so many ways.  They lead in the classroom: 170 student-athletes were named W&L Scholar-athletes for achieving a 3.5 GPA or higher during the 2010 fall term. A total of 21 of those students achieved a 4.0 or higher.  And they lead on the field: Last year W&L won the ODAC Commissioners Cup for overall athletic excellence for the 14th time in the past 16 years and captured the women’s overall cup for the seventh straight year.  So far this year we have two ODAC Championship teams – women’s Cross Country and football.  And I feel certain we’ll have a few more ODAC Champions before the year is through.

2.) Honor and Respect
You know better than I that Lee instituted honor and respect at W&L.  We take honor and respect very seriously, too.  In our world it’s called sportsmanship.  Sportsmanship is very important to me.  I meet with every team prior to the start of their playing season to let them know that I expect the coaches and the players to be good sports at all times.  I want our student-athletes to hear that it starts at the top and that it is not just a good idea, it’s an expectation.  And our athletes do an excellent job of meeting the high standard.  This fall I was standing on the sideline of our football game vs. Bridgewater, which was held at Bridgewater this year.  At one point during the second half, one of the local policemen, who was patrolling the sideline, came up to me and asked who I was and why I was standing there.  So I explained.  He then began to tell me that one of the men working the chains that day had just come up to him to tell him that the W&L football players are the most well-behaved, disciplined team they had seen that year.  It was a very sweet moment for me – and it became even sweeter about 10 minutes later when we beat them by one point because they missed a field goal at the end of the game!

3.) Integrity
In my estimation, you are nothing if you don’t have integrity.  At W&L, we play by the rules.  We are a NCAA Division III institution, which means we do not give financial aid to students based on athletic ability, only on their academic merit.  We also do not admit any student who does not meet the academic criteria that is required for admission, even if that student is an incredible athlete.  These two facts alone make it a very difficult job to recruit and be competitive in sports today, but we’re proud of our reputation of being a school with integrity.  I’ll tell you a brief story: I was traveling to a funeral with my men’s basketball coach last year when out of the blue he says to me, “You know, we’re probably the only school in DIII that follows the rules.”  I said, “Okay.”  He said, “No, really.  Like, we follow ALL the rules, and I don’t know of another school that does that.” I looked at him for a bit and wondered what is he trying to tell me?  Finally I said, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”  He said, “It’s a good thing… it’s a very hard thing, but it’s a good thing.  But here’s the deal: I can put my head on the pillow at night and know that I don’t have anything to worry about.  And that’s a great thing.”

4.) Excellence
Excellence is so intertwined with all the other principles I’ve just named that it seems I am repeating myself.  You can’t really talk about leadership, honor, and integrity without talking about excellence.  W&L is known for its excellent academics and it is only fitting that we be known for our excellent athletics. And I believe that is happening.  Due to the hard work of former AD Mike Walsh, and the generosity of our alums, particularly, Dick Duchossois, W&L is known for having one of the best outdoor facilities complexes in the DIII and in the country. And here’s a new, really exciting fact that you may or may not know:  President Ruscio announced this fall, during the launch of our current capital campaign, that $50 million will be raised to build a new indoor athletics and recreation facility.  I’m also pleased to announce that two donors who wanted to help meet the Lenfest Challenge gave generously to fund endowments to support coaches’ salaries.   Just more evidence of W&L’s commitment to excellence in all that it does.

You know better than I that W&L is what it is today because of the many, many people who gave, and who give, of their time and their talents.  One group of people that we owe so much to is you, our alums.  I want you to know that the coaches and student-athletes are grateful for the many ways in which you support what we do. And on their behalf, I want to thank you for your commitment to the principles of leadership, honor, integrity and excellence that have been the foundation for our ability to be all that W&L is today.

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2 Responses to “Founder’s Day and W&L Athletics: What do they have in common?”

  1. Tweets that mention Founder’s Day and W&L Athletics: What do they have in common? « From the Sidelines -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dit and W&L's Univ Registrar, Generals Athletics. Generals Athletics said: Athletic Director Jan Hathorn writes about the connection between the athletic program and Founder's Day at W&L in… http://fb.me/JGyKNUsd […]

  2. Marthe Honts Says:

    Jan,

    Inspiring, true words. This is the reason that we drive the 50 miles to bring our kids to W&L sporting events. There are sadly few opportunities in the sports arena where you can highlight so many strong, positive attributes both of individuals and schools. I don’t want to raise a super-star, I want to raise a well-rounded, high-quality individual who respects others, takes pride in their own efforts, and supports others in their daily goals as well. Thank you for your leadership to all the coaches and athletes.

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