My Thank You to Bates: What It Taught Me As A Student-Athlete and How It Sparked My Career In College Athletics
My grandfather was a coach, athletic director, and leader at Jersey City State (now NJCU) from 1958 to 1977. I can vividly remember my father telling me stories about my grandfather throughout my childhood. The stories always had the same theme – he was the happiest man my father ever knew. When I was younger I didn’t understand it. My father worked as a senior partner at one of the largest law firms in Maine. He had a bigger house and made more money than my grandfather. Why did every story about my grandfather bring tears to my father’s eyes? What about his life and career made him so happy?
I arrived at Bates College in fall of 2001 and was a member of the basketball team. The head coach during my time at Bates was Joe Reilly, now the head basketball coach at Wesleyan. As a head coach, he encouraged his team to grow outside the gym. Was he a fierce competitor who wanted to win? Yes. Did he understand his players were at Bates to do more than win basketball games? Yes. As a player, I enjoyed success – 1,000 points, All-NESCAC, and my graduating class left with the most wins in school history (that record has since been broken several times over). Basketball at Bates taught me the same lessons most players learn. I learned how to integrate with a team. I learned how to blend in with teammates from all over the country. I learned how to lead and how to manage pressure situations in games. The basketball, however, was secondary when compared to my experience as a student.
Outside the gym, I grew up at Bates. I took a wide variety of classes and experienced a true liberal arts education (how else would I have been able to take Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa, Geology and an acting class all at once?). I interacted daily with people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. I learned how to problem solve, work independently (Thesis) and with a group (half of all assigned projects). While the actual subject matter of classes may not be something I use on a daily basis, the methodology and problem solving employed to be successful in the classroom is the most valuable skill I took away from Bates.
When I graduated, I had spent countless hours in Alumni Gym. I had been through hundreds of practices and four seasons worth of games. I knew Suzanne Coffey (Athletic Director at the time) and Dave Haefele (Equipment Manager) but never really understood what their days entailed. I had absolutely NO IDEA how hard the administrative staff worked to run the department. I didn’t know the effort and hours that went in each day just to conduct a practice or set-up for a game. When I graduated from Bates, I knew I wanted to be involved in college athletics. I had the best college experience I could have hoped for and wanted to pass that experience on to others and live a life as happy as my grandfather’s.
Fast forward 14 years…
I have spent my professional career working in college athletics. I have held a variety of positions – everything from facilities to marketing to operations. I currently serve as Executive Director of the Mercer Athletic Foundation – the fundraising arm for Mercer University’s Athletic Department. My job is to raise the funds necessary to operate a Division I athletic program at a championship level. My days are spent interacting with a wide range of individuals – I may have lunch with a lawyer, take a phone call from an electrician, and watch a spring football practice with a doctor all in the same day. To be successful, I need to be able to adapt, connect, and resonate with each one of those people. I love what I do, and my father was right … I wake up every day looking forward to going to work. When my father talks about my career, he gets the same look in his eye as he does when he talks about my grandfather.
When I look back – almost 15 years later – I owe a great deal to Bates College and my time as both a student and an athlete. I only remember snippets of games. My most vivid memories are of fall scrimmages, the locker room, bus trips, and the intersession nights spent on campus with my teammates. My Bates experience, however, has impacted my entire life. The skill sets I developed at Bates are put to use nearly every day. I problem solve, I interact with diverse constituencies, I lead multiple units within the Athletic Department, and I am competitive. I also work hard to provide a positive and holistic experience for Mercer’s student-athletes – just like Coach Reilly did for me.
Now that I have spent the first half of my career working in college athletics, my respect for Suzanne and Dave has grown exponentially. I now understand how hard they worked on a shoestring budget to provide an excellent experience for Bates student-athletes. And, most importantly, I understand why my grandfather was so happy.