Whitman athletics have come a long way since the days of Scotty Cummins ’38, a hard-hitting catcher in baseball and gifted receiver in football who earned All-Conference honors in both sports. Cummins played for legendary Whitman coach Raymond V. Borleske 1910. In these days, footballers played both offense and defense, and when a pitcher threw a fastball high and tight, batters were instructed to stand their ground.
“When a pitcher would throw the ball inside, Borleske would say, ‘Let it hit you. Let it hit you,’” Cummins said.
Whitman has a collection of standout coaches who, along with stellar student-athletes, have led the college into a new era of athletic prominence.
“I still read the papers and follow the box scores,” Cummins said. “I’m really pleased to see Whitman doing so well. It’s more exciting to follow this year, because of all the success we are having.”
Bob “Doc” Thomsen, who from 1952 to 1979 coached football, golf and cross-country, and served as head of the physical education department, has also enjoyed watching Whitman athletics evolve. When he started coaching in 1952, ASWC footed the bill for team sports, covering everything from travel costs to jerseys, he said. Four-sport college athletes, virtually unheard of today, weren’t uncommon at all. And for much of his tenure, there were no women’s teams.
“Back when I was coaching, we didn’t recruit. Students joined teams if they wanted to,” said the 99-year old Thomsen, who, at times, can still be seen in the stands of Borleske Stadium or George Ball Court, rooting for the Missionaries.
“This was a challenge, because Whitman often fielded teams with few – if any – players over 200 pounds. “Try making an offensive line with that,” he said.
With more Missionary teams than ever competing on a national level, both Cummins and Thomsen said this sea-change unifies the college.
And they’re right. Alumni, administrators, students, staff, faculty and community members turn out to watch the Missionaries compete. Sports bring people together.
In the following pages, Whitman Magazine tips its hat to the Missionaries and shares the stories of but a few of those responsible for what has been called an athletic “renaissance” at Whitman College.