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With books in one hand and a bat in the other, Travis Feezell traveled a long, winding road on the way to his position as the new head baseball coach at Whitman College.
A former high school player-of-the-year in Nebraska, Feezell played collegiately at the University of Wyoming, where he graduated with honors in English and was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. He later earned a master's degree in medieval studies at the University of Wales in Cardiff, Great Britain.
Feezell, 27, spent the past three years as an academic advisor in the athletic department at Northwestern University, supervising a staff of 30 in the tutoring of more than 400 student-athletes.
While at Northwestern, Feezell served as an assistant baseball coach for two seasons at nearby North Park College, an NCAA Division III school in Chicago, Ill. His coaching experience also includes one season as an assistant at Wayland Baptist University, an NAIA school in Plainview, Texas.
At Whitman, Feezell replaces interim coach Jon Edwards, who held the position for one year. Edwards stepped in when Whitman athletic director Max Seachris retired from coaching after 18 seasons at the helm of the baseball program.
Feezell begins his new duties at Whitman in August. In addition to coaching baseball, he will teach physical education classes during the academic year and assist with administration of one or more athletic department programs.
Whitman maintains intercollegiate programs in 17 sports and competes in the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges, which is in the process of shifting its national affiliation from the NAIA to NCAA Division III. Whitman also offers a variety of intramural and club sport programs.
Feezell, who graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1990, was a four-year starter on its baseball team, which set a single-season school record for victories (37) and achieved its first-ever national ranking during his senior season. He earned academic all- conference honors his final two seasons.
After completing his master's degree at the University of Wales in June, 1992, Feezell spent the next academic year at Wayland Baptist University. In addition to his duties as assistant baseball coach. he pursued post-graduate studies in education administration and teaching theory, served as an instructor in the physical education department, and created the university's first academic support program for athletes.
"From both an athletic and academic standpoint, Travis is an excellent fit for a college such as ours,'' Whitman dean of faculty Pat Keef said. "He understands the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between athletics and academics. He is that type of person. He has combined a deep and interesting educational history with excellent experience in coaching and athletic department administration. He's an ideal role model for what we want our student-athletes to become.
"Travis is a very well-spoken and articulate young man," Keef added. "We're expecting great things both on the field and off."
Feezell is not the first member of his family to combine a strong interest in academics with playing and coaching baseball. His father Randolph Feezell, who played collegiate baseball at the University of Oklahoma, is a philosophy professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and an assistant baseball coach at Dana College in Blair, Neb.
The younger Feezell said he relishes the prospect of coaching at Whitman, a school with high academic standards.
"My goals were to coach at a small school in a small town, and to be part of a strong school, one where academics is an integral part of the of the four-year experience," Feezell said. "With Whitman, I feel like I discovered a gold mine. I love the place, the academics, the opportunity it presents, everything about it."
Feezell said the groundwork is in place for a winning baseball program. "There is so much opportunity and potential," he said. "Whitman had a down year last season, but the elements are in place to create something special.
"First, Whitman is a very attractive school academically. One point I learned at Northwestern is that academic and athletic achievement are not mutually exclusive. Having good students who happen to be good baseball players will be terrific, a great group to be around. Second, Walla Walla has good baseball weather, more so than other parts of the Northwest, and third, Whitman has good facilities, indoor and outdoor, for a small school.
"And finally, we have the support of the school itself. Good times will happen. It will take enthusiasm, energy and organization. These are things I bring to the table in plentitude."
Feezell said a strong emphasis on teaching is one of the keys to coaching at the NCAA Division III level, where athletic scholarships are not allowed.
"At this level you really are in a development mode. That is, you need to take baseball players who were either overlooked by larger schools or do not have as much talent and teach them the necessary skills and knowledge. In two years you want coaches at those larger schools to remark, `How did we miss this kid?'
"I've got to be a teacher -- and much of that comes with repetition of skills, fundamentals, lots of hitting, and teaching a real understanding of the game."
Feezell characterizes his coaching and recruiting styles as aggressive.
"In terms of recruiting, I'm already delving into some untapped areas to produce future Whitman ballplayers," he said. "I'm just as aggressive when it comes to fund-raising, which will help us grow as a program.
"I'm also aggressive when it comes to the game itself," he said. "I tend to do a number of things offensively -- bunting, hit-and-run, stealing -- to put pressure on the other team. We might not be a team to bang the ball out of the park, but we will certainly be an exciting team. Defensively, we're going to go right at the hitters and make the routine plays."
In his playing days, Feezell was a three-year starter as a pitcher and shortstop at Omaha's Central High School, which has an enrollment of about 2,000 students. He earned all-state and player-of-the-year honors as a senior. He also lettered four years in tennis, winning a state doubles championship as a senior to help his school capture the state team title.
At the University of Wyoming, Feezell shared the catching duties and filled other roles as a designated hitter and utility player. He was team captain as a senior when Wyoming was ranked as high as 19th in one NCAA Division I poll.
"My role was to be a good defensive catcher and handle pitchers," he said. "But I learned more about the game by being a catcher and role player. I had to know defenses, pitching, situational hitting and all the rest. My career batting average was right about .300, although I did hit about .340 one season."
Feezell and his wife Carol, an assistant cross country coach at Whitman, have one son, Jackson, 18 months of age.
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