WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Two of the most successful runners in the history of Whitman College athletics, along with a retired swim coach who served as an early champion of women’s athletics, are the latest inductees into the Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2007, announced at a recent Whitman athletics awards banquet, includes Walla Walla resident Lee Coleman, a life-long advocate for women’s athletics who made her final coaching stop at Whitman from 1980 through 1997.
Also inducted were 1961 Whitman graduate Robert "Bob" Hough, who honed his skills as a sprinter at McLoughlin Union High School in nearby Milton-Freewater, Ore., before starring for legendary Whitman track coach Bill Martin, and 1996 graduate Jessica Bissonnette Rolfe, who won a pair of Northwest Conference cross country titles as well as an NAIA national track title in the 3,000 meters.
More information about each of the 2007 inductees follows:
Lee Coleman: Swim Coach, Early Advocate for Women's Athletics
A professor of physical education and coach of men’s and women’s swimming, Lee Coleman was the first woman with a professional coaching background to serve Whitman for a significant length of time.
"Lee was a pioneer and an inspiration, a life-long role model, advocate and champion of girls and women in athletics," Whitman athletics director Dean Snider said. "At Whitman, her wise counsel and unwavering commitment to high standards in athletics and academics alike, along with her big smile, kind heart and generous spirit, enriched the lives of her student athletes and fellow coaches."
Coleman, who at one point served as president of the NAIA National Swim Coaches Association, directed a Whitman swim program that produced a steady stream of NAIA All-Americans. Despite a relatively small roster, her women’s team placed 10th at the NAIA National Championships in three consecutive years. One of her most talented swimmers still holds a Northwest Conference Championship Meet record in one event – 15 long years after the mark was set.
In addition to her teaching and coaching duties, Coleman served Whitman as its women’s athletic director and department chair. As a young faculty member, she was named a Paul Garrett Fellow in 1983 in recognition of outstanding teaching and scholarship, and she received the rank of full professor in 1994. Physiology of exercise and motor learning were her primary academic interests.
As an undergraduate at Ohio’s Wittenberg University, in the days before Title IX mandated equitable athletic opportunities for women, Coleman earned four varsity letters each in intercollegiate field hockey, volleyball, basketball and softball. She also competed in synchronized swimming, in addition to serving as coach of the team. After graduating summa cum laude, Coleman coached and taught at Wittenberg, George Williams College, Brigham Young University and the University of Kansas before coming to Whitman. She was elected to the Wittenberg Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988.
Coleman continues to make her home in Walla Walla, although she spends three months each summer as owner-operator of Voyager Trails, a wilderness-based canoe and swim camp at Cedar Lake, Minn. Now in its 50th summer of operation, the camp is located near the Canadian border, about 110 miles north of Duluth. Since her Whitman retirement, Coleman has written two books about her summertime experiences in Minnesota, A Cedar Lake Odyssey and A North Country Journal.
Coleman has four adult children and eight grandchildren. Her son, Jay Coleman, succeeded her as swim coach at Whitman for three years and now coaches the YMCA swim program in Oshkosh, Wis.
Robert "Bob" Hough: Conference Sprint Champion
As a Whitman freshman in 1958, Robert “Bob” Hough was a key contributor on coach Bill Martin’s 10th and final conference championship team. One of the links in a proud Missionary tradition of track sprinters, Hough ran on the victorious mile relay squad in that year’s conference championship meet, in addition to placing second in the 100-yard dash and fourth in the 220.
Hough’s talents blossomed during his sophomore season. He won both the 100 and 220 in back-to-back meets, posting best-times of 9.7 seconds in the 100 and 21.7 seconds in the 220. With Hough winning the 100 and anchoring the winning mile relay team, Whitman finished second at the conference meet. His success continued at the NAIA District Meet, where he won the 220.
Hough sprang from the blocks as a junior, dominating two meets by winning the 100 and 220 while anchoring victories in the mile relay. He added three more wins in Whitman’s next meet, despite suffering the first of what became a series of leg injuries. While hobbled at the conference championships, he won both sprints and again anchored a mile relay victory.
Injuries slowed Hough throughout his senior season. Still, he shared in a fourth consecutive conference title in the mile relay, and he placed second in the 100 and third in the 220. A junior and senior team captain, Hough capped his running career by winning both the Borleske Trophy as the top male athlete on campus, and the Klise Memorial Trophy, given to a track athlete for outstanding athletic ability and exemplary leadership.
Hough, who is semi-retired from a career in video and audio technology sales, lives in Cedar Hills, Ore., with his wife Barbara. They have two adult children, Kelly and Brian, and three grandchildren.
Hough is the older brother of Jan Hough Rolfe '64, who recently retired from Whitman as an associate vice president of development. Their parents, the late Emerson and Ethel Hough, moved to Milton-Freewater in 1940s and served for decades as community leaders. Among their many activities, Emerson was a member of the city council and library board, while Ethel was a Camp Fire executive and state president of the Oregon PEO organization.
Jessica Bissonnette Rolfe: Distance Runner Extraordinaire
The most accomplished distance runner in the history of Whitman women’s athletics, Jessica Bissonnette Rolfe was a four-time NAIA All-American in cross country and a three-time All-American in track and field.
In cross country, Bissonnette was the Northwest Conference champion as a sophomore and junior, leading Whitman to back-to-back women’s team titles. As a senior, she was a virtual lock for her third consecutive ndividual title, and Whitman was favored to again capture the team championship. Unfortunately, as the women’s team rose to No. 2 in the national rankings that fall, Bissonnette suffered a leg injury and missed the conference meet. She recovered in time to run at the national championships, placing 20th despite a five-week layoff (she had placed 11th as a junior).
The Whitman women’s team qualified for the NAIA national championships in each of Bissonnette’s four seasons. In their best showing of that era, the Missionaries placed fifth in one trip to nationals. They finished sixth in the other three appearances.
In track, Bissonnette capped her junior season by winning the 3,000 meters and placing third in the 5,000 meters at the NAIA championships. She finished off her injury-plagued senior season by placing third at nationals in the 5,000. She holds Whitman school records at 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters, and she was a three-time conference champion in the longer two events.
Bissonnette, who came to Whitman as a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Ore., forged an immediate training partnership and formidable one-two running punch with Kathleen Gibson, a graduate of Beaverton (Ore.) High School. With Bissonnette injured as a senior, Gibson won that’s fall conference cross country championship and placed fifth at NAIA nationals.
Bissonnette, winner of the 1996 Mignon Borleske Trophy as Whitman’s top female athlete, also was named the Blue Mountain Female Athlete of the Year. She is married to Alex Rolfe, a conference cross country champion, NAIA All-American in track & field, and winner of the 1997 R.V. Borleske Trophy as Whitman’s top male athlete.
The couple has three young children – ages 7, 4 and 2 – and live in Newberg, Ore., where Alex Rolfe is the reference librarian at George Fox University. Bissonnette, who completed a master’s degree in teaching at Seattle University, is home schooling her children.
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information,
(509) 527-5902; email@example.com