By Scott Devine, St. Mary's College of Maryland Director of Athletics and Recreation
I have really enjoyed reading the personal essays by our student-athletes which have been released over the last several days in conjunction with the “Division III Week” national initiative. Specifically, I have loved hearing about the true virtues of D-III athletics playing out in our own Seahawk student-athlete experiences. Those virtues include scholarly pursuit, academic achievement, athletic excellence, community involvement, healthy lifestyles, balance, perspective, participation, and the development of lifelong friendships and shared experiences which have resulted directly from being a part of a college athletic program. As an academic community grounded in the liberal arts, it should be gratifying to learn from these papers that we are all (faculty, staff, coaches, and fellow students) delivering in core areas which are critical in preparing our students to become the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow. To refer to an old athletic cliché, this is a great example of “teamwork” from all areas of our campus.
In my essay, I would like to touch on my own personal experience as a 26-year professional in college athletics and my strong belief in the D-III student-athlete model. The first 15 years of my career were spent on two D-I campuses, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Tulane University. It was always important to me to work at highly regarded academic institutions, so I felt fortunate to have started my career at UMass and then to have further developed as a manager and leader at Tulane. These two very different experiences, one at a large public school in the northeast and the other at a medium-sized private in the south, really helped shape my views on higher education and college athletics. As I became more immersed in the “business” of college athletics at the D-I level-- marketing and promotions, selling tickets, corporate sponsorships, raising funds, and always working to generate revenue, I realized that I was getting further away from why I originally entered the profession. The more my career was moving forward, the more I was moving away from regular interaction with student-athletes.
My point here is not to speak negatively of the D-I student-athlete experience because I firmly believe many of the same virtues we speak of at the D-III level are also very much alive and well in D-I. Suffice to say, I was struggling with the corporate-focused role of my position at that time. During a period of self-reflection and career assessment, I had a couple of colleagues move from their D-I jobs to take D-III athletic director positions. They were telling me how much they preferred the D-III philosophy and approach to college athletics. When I was fortunate enough to interview at St. Mary’s College during the spring of 2000, it all came into focus for me. The opportunity to lead a competitive small college athletic department with committed professional coaches and outstanding athletes in a serious academic environment was truly an exciting proposition. It also afforded me the chance to work more closely with student-athletes on a day-to-day basis and impact programming on a more grass roots level. I proudly accepted the athletic director position in July of 2000 and began my transition into the world of D-III athletic administration.
Eleven years later, much has changed in the Department of Athletics and Recreation. Some of the more significant highlights are listed here:
- A new baseball park, The Hawk’s Nest, was constructed in 2000
- The first full-time sports information director was hired in 2000 and our first fully functional athletic website followed
- A new tennis facility was opened in 2001
- The new Seahawk athletic logo was unveiled in 2002
- New practice fields came on-line in 2004
- The Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center was opened in 2006
- The James P. Muldoon River Center was completed in 2009
- Men’s and women’s cross country were added as varsity sports in 2009
We are all proud of these facilities and initiatives which I truly believe have moved both the College and the athletic operation forward over the last decade. The extremely competitive environment in D-III athletics has also changed greatly over this period of time with trends taking hold such as full-time head coaches in all sports, athletic recruiting quotas, the rise of sophisticated recruiting tools and systems, year-round recruiting efforts, an emphasis on fundraising and revenue development, and a recent movement by some to hire full-time assistant coaches. It has been both challenging and rewarding to have helped manage our athletic department through these ever-changing and evolving times in an extremely difficult economy.
What has NOT CHANGED during my tenure here is our ability to attract TRULY OUTSTANDING SCHOLAR-ATHLETES who fit our institution academically, athletically, and socially. I thank our coaches and our Admissions Office for this joint effort on the front end of the higher education process to continually work to bring high quality young women and men to the College. The student-athlete population accounts for between 16-20% of the St. Mary’s College student body in any given year. It should be noted that our student-athletes have led the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) in the percentage of student-athletes with a 3.2 grade point average or higher in eight of the last 10 years. Year in and year out, the student-athlete grade point averages are reflective of our general student body, and often times, slightly higher. In addition, we have worked our way up to be a contender in the ultra-competitive CAC where we typically place in the top half of the league in most sports. Along with our student-athletes’ success in the classroom and on the athletic front, they also give back to the community in a big way. Our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) as well as our coaches and teams are annually involved with food drives, raising funds for cancer research, sponsoring Special Olympics Days, organizing “Halloween at the ARC” for children in the community, and participating in “reading days” at local schools, just to name some of the community support efforts.
When this information is combined with the student essays we have been reading this week, it is clear that the D-III virtues mentioned in my opening paragraph are not only central to the student-athlete experience here at St. Mary’s College, they are actually being “lived out.” Further, the D-III branding initiative tag words of “Discover, Develop, and Dedicate” are certainly reflective of what we hope defines the journeys of our student-athletes while they are here and as they move on after graduation.
I have been so fortunate to have worked at three amazing institutions of higher learning. My three professional stops have allowed me to be directly involved as a manager at the D-I and the D-III levels. The D-III experience we embrace here at St. Mary’s College is sincere and real. The balance and perspective seem exactly right to me. In speaking for my staff, we allow our athletes to be students first, campus citizens second and competitive college athletes third. As professionals in the field of college athletics, we take the athletic component seriously and approach it passionately. We do not apologize for that. We believe that the recipe of an enriched academic environment, an engaged campus community, high-level athletics, local community involvement, unique social opportunities, and our beautiful campus setting are indeed the proper ingredients to maximize the development of the “whole person.” In essence, the D-III student-athlete experience encompasses the liberal arts ethos of enrichment of the “mind, body, and spirit.”
I thank our student-athletes for their thoughtful written contributions to “Division III Week.” I also want to sincerely thank all of our coaches, staff, and faculty who positively impact the Seahawk student-athlete experience each and every day, and especially President Joe Urgo, Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of the Faculty Beth Rushing, and NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative Jeff Byrd for their ongoing support.