By Dean Snider
Sometimes, I need to check to see if I am dreaming or if it really IS true. Whitman College, a home for outstanding students who also happen to excel in sport, has one of the most dominant athletic programs in the Northwest and is making waves on the national stage of the NCAA Division III. With humble gratitude to the many people who have made this possible, I say, “Thank you!”
My friend and mentor, Jock Edwards ’66, has referred to our newfound athletic success as the “renaissance of Whitman athletics.”
I am proud of our student-athletes. These remarkable young men and women not only earn admission to Whitman College on their own merit, but they also excel in the classroom and at numerous other academic and extracurricular activities at the college. The students in our varsity athletic programs have the same average GPA as students who are not varsity athletes, and their graduation rate is a staggering 91.5 percent.
These outstanding students are also committed to a grueling varsity athletics schedule that includes daily practice, weekly competition and one of the heaviest travel schedules in the nation, due in large part to the truly wonderful, but remote, location of Walla Walla.
Even with this intense commitment to academic rigor and the challenging schedule, our student-athletes continue to achieve at higher and higher levels. Starting in 2007, the year the W Club was founded, our program has improved annually. I am proud to say that 2012-13 was, arguably, the most successful athletic year – across all sports – in Whitman College history.
That is a big statement, I know. Pinch me? You may even want to pinch yourself! The Northwest Conference has tracked results since it was founded in 1926, when Whitman joined as a charter member. Teams earn points according to their rank in the conference at the end of the season – 18 points for first, 16 points for second and so on. In each of the previous eight years, Whitman has increased its point total, and in 2012-13 the college had 172 points, our highest total in history. Also amazing is our climb up the NWC position ladder. In 2013, Whitman College was No. 2 in points per team compared to ranking No. 7 eight years ago.
Over the last two years, Whitman has honored 17 All-Americans, won five NWC Championships, sent 10 teams to the NCAA Division III postseason and earned a trip to the women’s NCAA D-III Elite 8. We had a national runner up and national third-place finish in swimming. We currently have three alumni playing professional sports in Europe and South America, and a fourth will be doing the same next year in China. One alumna has deferred medical school to fulfill her dream of playing professional basketball.
This is not the Whitman College athletics program that I joined in 1996. I suspect it is not the athletic program that you remember either.
We have much to be grateful for. Competitive sport is a classroom where students learn to lead, to collaborate, to set and pursue goals, to communicate effectively, and to connect to and engage in something bigger than themselves. These are all outcomes of our competitive program. It is not enough just to participate. Life is competitive. We must seek to achieve at the highest level while remaining true to our values. Only through a focused, strategic effort are the lessons of team sport available to us.
I am grateful for a college that shares, and in fact has helped shape, my values. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented faculty, staff and students. I am grateful to the many people who believe in and have supported our programs. The W Club Board and membership deserve a special “thank you.” I am humbled by their remarkable commitment to their alma mater. I am honored to be part of the amazing community that is Whitman College and for this opportunity to lead the renaissance of our athletic programs. See you at the games!