Blood, Sweat, and Cheers
As a tall kid playing Little League in Los Angeles, I had a big strike zone—a fact that opposing pitchers exploited with dismaying regularity. My height served me better on the basketball court in high school, but I never had any illusions about being a college athlete. Still, my playing days gave me insight into what Oxy's founders had in mind when they addressed academics and athletics—"sports that give strength and agility to the body and that do not involve a sacrifice of intellectual or moral excellence," as the 1902 catalog put it.
Excellence in the classroom and in Taylor Pool drove Dr. Sammy Lee '43 to win the platform diving competition at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics—the first Asian-American male to win a gold medal. More than 50 years later, it was the same standard of excellence that propelled Jonathan and Robert Dohring '08 toward their one-two finishes in the one- and three-meter diving events at the 2007 NCAA Division III championships. The difference was that the Dohrings couldn't practice in Taylor Pool, which hasn't met modern safety and competition standards for years. They had to travel to the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena—as do our divers today.
Oxy's tennis teams have had a similar problem for the last nine years, ever since the tennis courts below Anderson Field made way for Berkus Hall. The four courts that remain on the other side of campus are two short of the six courts SCIAC regulations require to host sanctioned competition. For years, Oxy tennis teams have had to travel to host home competitions in a rented facility in Burbank.
This is why I am thrilled that we are now within striking distance of having the necessary funding to build a new pool and additional tennis courts, thanks to the generosity and vision of Barry Crosthwaite '80 and Jennifer Townsend Crosthwaite '84 and trustee emeritus Ian McKinnon '89 and his wife, Sonnet. The Crosthwaites have pledged $1.5 million for a new NCAA-certified swimming and diving pool that will be the centerpiece of the forthcoming $9-million, 30,000-square-foot De Mandel Aquatic Center. A similar pledge from the McKinnons will make it possible to add two courts to the existing McKinnon Tennis Center, restoring the total to six.
We couldn't have picked a more impressive lineup that illustrates the intimate connection that has always existed between athletic and academic achievement at Oxy. Barry, a Phi Beta Kappa chemistry major, was a four-time first team All-Conference selection in water polo. Jennifer, a mathematics major, was a two-time All-American in volleyball and helped lead Oxy to a 1981 NCAA Final Four appearance. Ian, a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude public policy major and Rhodes Scholar finalist, was captain of the Oxy men's tennis team his senior year.
With the missteps of Division I athletics dominating the sports pages in recent years, it's not surprising that some critics view college sports as an expensive sideshow that has nothing to do with the real mission of higher education. This is nothing new; when Oxy joined Pomona, Whittier, Caltech, and Redlands in founding the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1915, their presidents expressed a collective concern about what they saw as the "exaggeration of athletics as presenting one of the gravest problems in the realm of collegiate education." Their solution—one I believe still holds up today, a century later—was an insistence on high standards applied to what they called "a mutual athletic life which shall be distinctly and uniquely fine, friendly, and sane." It's what the Los Angeles Times once described as "student-athletes with the emphasis on student … athletics [that] can be pretty terrific by any measure."
Besides the classic benefits of mens sana in corpore sano, the Crosthwaites and McKinnons talk about the invaluable leadership, teamwork, and discipline skills their participation in sports brought them—skills they have applied throughout their careers. In an era where more than half of our students participate in some kind of athletic program, from intercollegiate to intramurals, they believe that in promoting the success of our athletic programs we are promoting the success of the College as a whole. This former gym rat couldn't agree more.