Reading, Writing, and . . . Rugby
When it comes to sports — it's a whole new ball game at Whitman College today. Whitman students at the turn of the century have been well nurtured in a health-conscious society, a society also convinced that the lessons of sport contribute positively to other realms of life. They have grown up with the athletic proclamation "Just Do It."
Students today come to Whitman expecting to claim a spot on the court or on the field, not just on the sidelines. And if not playing games, they are exercising and recreating in Sherwood Center's aerobics room or weight room, out on Walla Walla's country roads, in the foothills of the Blues or high in the Wallowas, on Bennington Lake or Oregon's Rogue River.
"Whitman students are doers, not just spectators," observes dean of the faculty Pat Keef. "Why do students come to Whitman, way out in Walla Walla, anyway? One reason is that they can get involved in a variety of activities. We're the only selective, liberal arts college in a rural setting west of the Rockies, the only one that is not on the I-5 corridor. You come here because you are the type of person interested in the outdoors, in physical activity — from a soccer game to a hike into the Eagle Cap Wilderness."
Whitman's location has a lot to do with the campus culture, Tom Cronin has noted. "We are about halfway between Seattle and Boise, halfway between Portland and Missoula, and halfway between the towering Cascade Mountains and the vast Rocky Mountains. We are located at the edge of a beautiful and accessible mountain range (the Blue Mountains), which provides great skiing, hiking, and mountain biking."
In addition, Whitman students have the study skills and the discipline that enable them to balance athletics and their many activities with academics, "to keep several balls in the air at once," says Keef.
"Sports activities counterbalance intense studies," adds Julia Dunn, assistant professor and director of athletics. "They serve as a social outlet for students — an opportunity to be with friends — and provide stress relief and a chance to get out and get some exercise. Sports play an important role in helping students to remain healthy."
The College supports students in these efforts to develop the habits of an active, healthy lifestyle. "At Whitman we encourage students to excel in all areas, whether in biochemistry, theater, or the study of foreign languages and cultures. The athletics and wellness programs offer yet another opportunity for our students to achieve excellence," says President Cronin.
Encouragement for students to participate in sports and fitness activities has come in the form of enhancements to the spaces where they play and exercise.
Named for a former Whitman president, math professor, and tennis coach, the Walter A. Bratton Tennis Center opened in February of 1996. The facility has been listed by the U. S. Tennis Association as one of the best collegiate tennis centers in the country. In that distinction, Whitman shares the limelight with Harvard University and six other institutions. Made possible largely by a gift from Bratton's grandson, Walter A. "Jerry" Bratton, the Bratton Tennis Center has four indoor courts with the highest quality surfaces. It also boasts state-of-the-art indirect lighting, dressing rooms, and a balcony area for spectators.
Whitman skiers: Five consecutive all-around national titles.
In a 1997 renovation of Sherwood Center, the College converted a cramped weight room and excess locker space into a modern fitness center furnished with the best available weight training and cardiovascular workout equipment. Also added was a dance studio, which sees constant use not only for dance but also aerobics, fencing, and self-defense classes.
The purchase last year of about 18 acres of land several blocks from campus will boost Whitman's overall athletic effectiveness. Located north of DeSales High School in the vicinity of Borleske Stadium, the complex will be used for soccer, lacrosse, and rugby. It also includes a softball field.
For active students — a long list of choices
Most students are busy in some physical activity every day. Weekdays at 7 a.m., when the gym opens, they crowd into Sherwood Center to work out. At noon they show up for pickup basketball, raquetball, or tennis. At 4 p.m. they are swimming, running, fencing, or practicing rugby or soccer.
Facilities that didn't even exist a few years ago are jam-packed at various times of the day, and on the weekends students may be out running or bicycling, hiking or canoing.
Almost a quarter of the student body plays on one or more of 18 varsity teams — men's and women's basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, cross-country, track and field, golf, and skiing in addition to men's baseball and women's volleyball.
Almost five hundred students participated in intramural flag football competition this fall, and throughout the year hundreds more turn out for intramural volleyball, basketball, tennis, indoor soccer, raquetball, ultimate frisbee, and softball.
Women's rugby, tae kwon do, and snowboarding recently have been added to a roster of club sports that includes men's and women's lacrosse, water polo, men's rugby, cycling, fencing, ultimate frisbee, and men's volleyball.