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Formula for Success

Athletics takes a three-pronged approach

In this age of instant gratification, it's all about "What have you done lately?" At Dartmouth today, the answer is: A lot.

Consider the following:

  • In hockey: an ECAC regular-season championship for the men and four trips to the NCAA Frozen Four for the women (another seems likely this spring).
  • The first title win in 2003 for men's lacrosse in nearly 50 years; back-to-back trips to the NCAA women's lacrosse Final Four, including the 2006 national title game.
  • Ivy League titles (and NCAA tournament appearances) for women's basketball in 2005 and 2006. In men's basketball, a sport dominated by Penn and Princeton for decades, the Green is starting to move up in the pack.
  • Consistent runs to the top of the Ivy League in men's and women's soccer. Likewise, in baseball.
  • A host of outstanding individual and team achievements for Dartmouth's men and women in cross country, track and field, skiing, and sailing.
President James Wright and Mike Ouellette '06
President James Wright was on hand to congratulate captain Mike Ouellette '06 (right) and the Big Green when men's hockey won the 2006 Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey League title. (Photo by Mark Washburn)

It adds up to a balance that symbolizes the value of athletics as part of the learning experience at Dartmouth. And for students, it provides the opportunity to realize success, individually and in team competition.

Make no mistake about it: despite challenges on a number of fronts, athletics is right where it has always been—at the heart of the Dartmouth experience.

"Athletics has an important place at Dartmouth as part of the learning environment," says President James Wright. "Athletics teaches our students discipline and teamwork, time management, competing hard and, whether they win or lose, completing the competition graciously. Athletics teaches loyalty, and how to build a sense of community and school spirit."

"I've never felt more challenged, but, at the same time, I've never felt better about the support that athletics is receiving from President Wright and the College administration," says Director of Athletics and Recreation Jo Ann 'Josie' Harper '47A, who oversees Dartmouth's 34 varsity teams (16 men's, 16 women's, and 2 co-ed) as well as physical education, intramurals, and recreation programs that collectively involve over 75 percent of the College's undergraduate population. "Certainly, we need patience as football and men's basketball continue to rebuild. These are seen by many as the 'front porch' sports, and at times, the common measure of success. In these sports, and in all sports, winning is the goal."

Harper and Robert Ceplikas '78, the deputy director of athletics, have an operating strategy that utilizes three critical tools: the hiring and retention of talented coaches, a close collaboration with admissions, and investment in facilities. The result is that more than 1,000 talented student-athletes wear the Dartmouth green and white.

Guiding their progress are men and women who are more than coaches. "I've always thought of myself as a teacher, just by a different name and in a different kind of classroom," says Chris Wielgus, the women's basketball coach who has led her teams to 10 Ivy League titles in 21 seasons. (See related story.) Recognizing the teaching-coaching-leadership qualities that Wielgus and her colleagues across the department bring to their teams, the College has made an institutional commitment to retain coaches with salaries that are competitive with those throughout the Ivy League.

Dartmouth Athletics also continues a vital collaboration with the College's admissions office, with close communications between coaches and their admissions liaisons. "Our coaches get timely feedback on prospective student-athletes' admissions chances," says Ceplikas, who was himself an admissions officer at the College before joining the athletics administration in 1990. "This has enabled the coaches to focus their energies and resources more efficiently." Ceplikas also points to an emphasis on early decision admissions, which improves the yield on blue-chip prospects, and the "terrific" support athletics gets from the financial aid office, providing prospects with aid projections to help them make their decisions.

Dartmouth's investment in athletic facilities during the past 10 years has taken a quantum leap forward. From 1962 until the mid-1980s, three athletic landmarks (Leverone Field House, Thompson Arena, and the Berry Sports Center) were valued additions that continue to serve numerous teams.

President James Wright and Josie Harper
President James Wright and Director of Athletics and Recreation Joann "Josie" Harper at the opening of the new Fitness Center. (Photo by Mark Washburn)

But, over the past decade, the College has made an investment of more than $72 million in athletic facilities that make Dartmouth competitive with its sister institutions. Among the projects: Scully-Fahey Field; the Boss Tennis Center and Gordon Pavilion; the Blackman football practice fields; the McLane Family Lodge at the Dartmouth Skiway; renovations to Hanover Country Club; the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse and Brophy Field; and major renovations to Alumni Gymnasium, including the creation of the Fitness Center and the resurfacing of Memorial Field and track. Scheduled completion of the Floren Varsity House and the Burnham soccer field in 2007 prompt Harper to observe, "We've made decisions regarding facilities that are based on what serves us best. What Dartmouth needs isn't necessarily the same as what the other Ivies need for their athletic programs. At the same time, the quality of our facilities has gone from near the bottom to well into the top of the Ivy League."

In an era when the athletic department budget has been essentially flat (and athletics hasn't been alone in facing economic challenges on campus), contributions to the Dartmouth Athletics Endowment, the numerous Friends programs, and the Athletic Sponsor Program have helped fill the need across the varsity program. "Support for the Sponsors Program has doubled in the last 15 years," says Ceplikas, "and donations to Friends programs have tripled in that same period." Funds from alumni and parents for these resources have been critical to addressing program needs, equipment, team travel, and recruiting travel.

"It's important to maintain our direction, to build successful programs for every varsity team and individual athlete at Dartmouth without compromising our academic integrity," says Harper. "Our ability to do this depends on institutional as well as alumni support. We have that now, including the understanding that it requires an ongoing, constant commitment."

It's a winning formula sure to bring Dartmouth its share of victories.

By JACK DEGANGE

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Last Updated: 5/30/08