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Leaders on the Field, Court, and Trail

Regina Wicks, '00, three-time Scramble trip leader: As a junior she led a group of entering students on an outing to Grand Teton National Park. Above, at Paintbrush Divide (10,700 feet).
Whatever the team or the activity, many Whitman students are much more than players. Beyond volleying tennis balls or making three-pointers, students are organizing, running, inventing, and influencing sports and physical programs all across the campus.

A committee of five students, for example, oversees intramural competitions, no small job even though the students split up responsibility for the various sports. This fall alone, the committee, chaired by sophomore Jay Babbitt, ran a flag football program fielding 25 teams, indoor soccer competition among 18 teams, and tennis and racquetball tournaments. Through the rest of the academic year, the five students will have their hands full organizing basketball, volleyball, softball, tennis, and ultimate frisbee intramurals.

His efforts and time commitment are well worth it, notes Babbitt, not only for his own personal growth but also for the benefit of his fellow students. "So many students enjoy intramurals," he believes, "because everyone can participate regardless of athletic ability. It"s a way to kick back, get away from your studies, and take care of physical fitness. It gets the support of the entire campus."

Babbitt arrived at Whitman his first year already a leader "with sports on my mind." The football team he organized that fall won the championship, and Babbitt went on to head the intramural committee as well as continue participating as a player.

"That"s the purpose of athletics at Whitman," says Dean Keef, "to provide an opportunity for students to learn leadership skills, cooperative skills, and interpersonal skills that will last a lifetime."

Just before her sophomore year, Regina Wicks faced a trial run of her leadership skills on the fourth day of a canoe trip down the Missouri River east of Great Falls, Montana. Leading a group on a Scramble one of several outdoor trips planned for entering students she had to deal with exhausted campers, a rainstorm, and an injured student, all at once. "I was cleaning and medicating her cuts and scrapes when I looked up and saw the thunder clouds rolling in, and I knew it would be pouring in a few minutes," she relates. "I realized we didn"t have camp set up or dinner going, so I had to act fast to get things under cover and organized. Usually I would do things democratically, but this time I just sort of delegated, and people cooperated."

Now a senior, Wicks has led two other Scramble trips since then, an important responsibility in which "parents are counting on you, and the students are counting on you," she says. "It has given me confidence in my ability to make decisions and in my teaching skills."

Significant personal growth comes from involvement in the Outdoor Program, notes dean of students Chuck Cleveland. "The knowledge that students gain from participating in or leading an outdoor trip that is challenging and, yes, even has an element of risk in it, does wonders for their self esteem and confidence. It also teaches them the value of team work, preparation, persistence, and that hard work pays off."

To lead a group, students have to participate in an interview with outdoor program staff who will evaluate their past experience, whether they know the area they will visit, and what courses they may have taken as preparation. "Students are required to have first aid and CPR training, plus they must take the Whitman van driving course," says Tom Penzel, Outdoor Program manager. Not required but highly recommended is the Wilderness First Responder course, an 80-hour, nationally-recognized course that instructs in how to deal with emergencies more than an hour from definitive medical care, and the Outdoor Leadership class, which covers such topics as hazard awareness, mountain first aid, minimum impact camping, and group dynamics.

Much of what students learn through the Outdoor Program, however, is less technical and more interpersonal, less practical and more leadership related how to motivate a participant who may be having a difficult time, for example.

Besides the real-life lessons it teaches, the program offers "a different way for someone to shine," says Penzel. "A student who is shy, reserved in the classroom, might really light up in the outdoors." Last February Penzel took his Outdoor Leadership class on a camping trip in Oregon"s Elkhorn Mountains. There was plenty of snow, he says, but "they were having the time of their lives."

Whether camping in the snow at 7,500 feet or playing a shutout volleyball game or competing for a Watson Fellowship most Whitman students do enjoy a challenge. In tackling those challenges, they not only learn lessons no classroom can teach, they no doubt all are having the time of their lives.