Q. UMBC has made immense strides as an academic institution under your leadership, and students and alumni take great pride in those achievements. What role does athletics play at UMBC – and how can we infuse our athletics program with that same pride and school spirit?
– Tim O’Ferrall ’95, interdisciplinary studies
Athletics are exciting and enlightening. One can learn a lot playing a sport about teamwork, about leadership, about discipline, about hard work, about how to lose, and how to win.
We take great pride in viewing athletics as a part of a balanced vision for the education of our students. We think about the whole student, the whole person, and that means that every student here should be viewed as someone who is here on this campus to develop his or her ability to think well and dream about the possibilities – and also to develop the skills and values necessary to reach goals.
Our women’s soccer team is an excellent example the type of experience for which we’re striving. The team finished the 2012 season last in the America East Conference. The women took lessons from their losses, supported one another, and worked hard – led by an inspirational coach who cared about them as scholars and people, not just as athletes. In one season, they went from last to first in the conference, tying for the regular season championship and winning the tournament.
This year, both Women’s and Men’s Soccer, also the defending champions, continue to do well in conference play. It’s exciting to be doing so well in soccer as its profile as one of the leading sports in the world continues to rise. More important, I am inspired by all our coaches – across sports – who care about students and their academic performance and are teaching them valuable lessons through sports.
Whether a student at UMBC is an athlete in our Division I program, or participating in an organized club sport, or highly involved in recreation and intramural sports, they are learning how to put athletics in perspective. That is an essential part of our values. We don’t want students to believe that they’re here simply to be involved in a sport. They are also learning about the need to balance schoolwork and other responsibilities with the time necessary to do well in school.
I think it is significant that we have large numbers of UMBC student athletes who excel academically. About half of our athletes are working at the Dean’s List level, and we can point to large numbers who go one to graduate and professional schools. It’s an atmosphere – and a relationship between excellence in academics and excellence in athletics – that exists at some of the most privileged schools in the country.
We have decided as an institution to invest more money in athletics in recent years. Nancy Young, vice president for student affairs, is working with me on projects including the new Events Center that will be a home for many of our teams. We are determined to be as supportive of athletics as possible. We are also delighted that we have a great athletics director in Tim Hall, as well as a fine group of coaches.
But I do think that people would say we are different from most places in that we’ve never been overwhelmed by sports. And I mean by that we’ve always understood that academics should come first and that’s the most important principle. We stand by that. And as member of the America East conference, we’re aligned with other institutions that are academically strong and that are also believers in balance between athletics and academics at a time when some would say there is not the balance we need to see across the country.
We should take great pride in the wonderful times that a variety of our athletic teams have had over the years, and in the excitement that those who followed the teams have had watching UMBC athletes. We also know that our alumni often talk about the great times they have had participating in club sports and intramural sports on this campus.
I think our challenge is to keep telling those stories and to watch as the overall story of UMBC and its spirit evolves as we reach our 50th anniversary in 2016 and beyond.
To send a question to President Hrabowski, visit www.umbc.edu/magazine