Sports at Williams

From the Spring 2014 Williams Magazine

At Homecoming in the fall, Athletics Director Lisa Melendy and I had the pleasure of accepting the 2013 Directors’ Cup, the college’s 16th in 18 years. It’s awarded to the school in each NCAA division that performs the best in post-season play. Last year we had 12 teams (eight women’s, four men’s) finish in the top 10 nationally, including three national champions (men’s and women’s tennis and women’s crew), an extraordinary showing of which I couldn’t be more proud.

But winning the cup, in and of itself, is never our purpose. Rather, we focus on living up to the key principles that underlie our athletics philosophy:

Athletics are for students: Like everything at Williams, our sports program exists to provide students with experiences that will develop their capacities and enrich their lives. Athletics teach teamwork, the value of hard training and delayed gratification and the responsibility inherent in wearing the Williams uniform. Most fundamentally, our program is successful if graduates apply these lessons throughout their lives.

The human dimension: When I talk with alumni of every generation about being athletes here, what they recall most warmly and vividly are their relationships with coaches and teammates. In athletics, as in academics, the human dimension is central. Our coaches are members of the faculty, and their teaching is assessed by the same standards we use for academic faculty. Great sports programs are led by great coaches, and I wouldn’t trade our staff for any other in the country.

Broad participation: We have 32 varsity teams, 16 each for women and men, and more than a third of our students play on one. We have no “major” and “minor” sports; all of our teams, and all of our athletes are equally important. In addition, we have more than a dozen club sports, a strong intramural program, a vigorous Outing Club and a four-course physical education requirement. The sweep of these offerings reflects our belief that the benefits of physical activity and competition accrue to participants at every level. As much growth can be had from scaling a mountain with a close-knit team as from winning a NESCAC championship in soccer or volleyball.

The larger Williams experience: Being even the most dedicated athlete is but one element of the Williams experience. As members of the NESCAC and NCAA Division III, we’re committed to running our sports program such that all students can take full advantage of everything the college offers. Conference rules on length of seasons, practice schedules and recruitment policies help ensure that varsity athletes can choose any major, study abroad, be engaged with campus life and even play a second sport in another season.

And then there’s the wonderful fun of cheering on our Ephs. I grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., a crucible of college sports, but I’ve never seen a crowd more intense than in Chandler Gym when we’re locked in a close battle with Amherst. Sports play a vital role in sustaining our Williams community, and it isn’t only students, faculty and staff who get swept up in the excitement. The day I saw my sons shirtless and painted purple and yellow was when I knew that in coming to Williams my family had truly come home.

I hope and expect that we’ll continue to win a lot of contests, and even perhaps more Directors’ Cups. The real measure of our athletics program’s success, though will always be how well we fulfill our deeper ideals. And that’s excellence we can truly promise to live up to.