Volume 78
Number 1

Playing by the Book

The Magic of Science

Vaccine Research Center

A Gringa Goes to São Paulo

Emory University

Association of Emory Alumni

Current News and Events

Emory Report



Sports Updates





















































Nearly two decades later, swimmers like Tom Shane are in the same pool every morning from 6 until 8:30 a.m. and again from 3:30 until 5:30 p.m., doing lap after lap in preparation for this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship meet—a competition where the Emory team took second place last year.

A competitive swimmer since he was four years old, Shane may feel a bit waterlogged some days, but no one is especially worried that he’s going to drown.

Shane easily could have earned a swimming scholarship to an NCAA Division I school, where hefty financial incentives are offered to desirable athletes. Instead, he chose Emory, where he can swim at a highly competitive level and, during those hours of the day when he’s dry, prepare to enter medical school. The University belongs to NCAA Division III, the category that does not allow for athletic scholarships.

“I knew I could have gotten a swim scholarship, but I also knew I was interested in medicine, and Emory has a great medical school,” says Shane. “My swimming ability matches up well with the Division III level of sports here at Emory. I get to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond instead of getting lost at a Division I school.”

This harmony between academics and athletics is hardly a new idea at Emory. In fact, it’s exactly the balanced approach the University has been striving for since the sports program saw a major growth spurt in the 1980s, stimulated by the completion of the Woodruff P.E. Center and the formation of a new conference, the University Athletic Association. But while the philosophy hasn’t changed, the scope and success of athletic competition at the University have swelled dramatically, albeit unhurriedly and with litttle fanfare.

In 2001, Emory placed fourth out of nearly four hundred Division III schools in the national standings for the Sears Directors’ Cup, awarded to the best all-around athletics program. This achievement marked the sixth year running that Emory ranked among the top twenty-five universities in its NCAA division and tied Emory’s previous best standing from 1997.

The men’s swim team took second place in the national championships, while the women’s took fourth; women’s tennis ranked third nationally; men’s tennis made it to the nationwide quarterfinals; and baseball, volleyball, and women’s soccer advanced to the “sweet sixteen” round in national competition. In the regional finals, both the women’s and men’s cross-country teams took first place.

In the hotly competitive UAA, a separate conference made up of eight institutions with academic profiles similar to Emory’s and a like-minded approach to athletics, nine of the eighteen Emory varsity teams finished first for 2001. Five finished second, and two third.

Also in 2001, Emory ranked highest in the nation academically with twelve Verizon Academic All-American athletes (Notre Dame, in second place, had eleven; Penn State nine) and more NCAA postgraduate scholarship winners—seven—than any other university athletic program in the country. The University is one of five schools in the nation, a group that includes Duke, Stanford, and Princeton, to place in the top twenty for both academics and athletics, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings.

“Our biggest selling point has always been that we’re an excellent combination of sports and academics,” says John Arenberg, director of sports information. “There are schools that are better in each of those areas, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better combination than the one Emory offers.”

The secret to Emory’s athletic success, according to Athletics Director Chuck Gordon, is disarmingly simple. “Every year we’ve tried to get a little better,” he says. “There have been no huge leaps. We’ve just been building on our successes and striving to be better and better. There’s no magic to what we’ve done. The magic is that we have worked very hard with quality people, and it’s borne fruit.”

It may be flourishing now, but the relationship between Emory and athletics has a checkered past. One of its earliest detractors was the University’s first chancellor, Bishop Warren Akin Candler, who disapproved of varsity sports and considered competition a potentially unwholesome distraction. Like a protective father forbidding his daughter to squander her time with the captain of the football team, Candler shielded Emory students from the temptation of any sports competition that might compromise their studies.

But as Emory sports historian Clyde Partin puts it, “Anytime you get a bunch of boys together, they’re going to do something. They played tag back in those days. They’d play anything.” The mounting tension between Candler’s rules and the students’ yen for organized sports led trustees to seek a compromise, one that would set the tone for sports at Emory for many years to come. The University’s official philosophy of “Athletics for All,” put forth in the 1920s, spawned an extensive and hugely popular intramural program that is still thriving today.

“That philosophy is still very much alive,” says Gordon. With dozens of club and intramural teams devoted to every imaginable sport—from rugby to water polo to the current rage, Ultimate Frisbee—he estimates that about half of all University undergraduates participate in non-varsity sports at some point in their Emory careers.

While the University’s general suspicion of serious sports lingered for much of the last century, as time passed, its strict policies gradually relaxed. By the 1930s, some intercollegiate sports were being played; in the 1940s, University leadership began to allow teams to travel to other institutions for games. Throughout the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, Partin says, intramural sports at Emory blossomed, and varsity sports followed closely—though more cautiously—behind. The athletics program, while it grew in number, remained a lean operation. Coaches were simply professors who donned shorts in the afternoons. Gerald Lowrey, who coached cross-country and track in the early 1980s, recalls that when the team had an away meet, he would go to Partin, who might—or might not—take a $20 bill out of his desk drawer to fund the trip.

“Basically, because of a lack of funding and a lack of emphasis, the varsity teams were only able to develop to a certain degree,” Lowrey says.

Today, the University spends $2.2 million on athletics and recreation annually, on everything from lifeguards to plane tickets to soccer balls. Emory’s athletic funding is on par with the top Division III budgets in the country. The 187,000-square-foot Woodruff P.E. Center remains the centerpiece of the Eagles’ premier athletic facilities and playing fields. The University has fourteen full-time head and assistant coaches, many of whom, says Gordon, could coach at the Division I level if they chose, but “they enjoy the atmosphere at Emory.” Dramatic changes have taken place, yet the University’s emphasis on academics over athletics has never faltered.

“Our program now is comparable to that of some mid-level Division I schools, such as William and Mary, in terms of what we do and how we do it,” Gordon says. “We are in Division III because of our philosophy choices. We are where we need to be. Athletics are not the primary reason we select students. And we don’t have athletes who just come here to play.”

Erika Sorgatz, a senior from Wheaton, Illinois, has played soccer since she was knee-high, but she wasn’t sure she wanted the sport to hold ultimate sway over her choice of colleges. At Emory, she plays sweeper for the women’s team and maintans a 3.6 grade point average (GPA) majoring in sociology and math.

“I was really looking at the schools themselves, the whole school, not just the athletic program,” she says. “But getting to play was a very big bonus. It has made the whole college experience so much more enjoyable.”

Partin, who has taught physical education at Emory for fifty years and served as chair of the division of P.E. and athletics from 1966 until 1986, is currently writing the colorful history of sports at Emory. Even though he ran the athletics program in an old airplane hangar and on a shoestring budget, he says the program has kept pace with the University’s philosophy, growth, and needs.

“I would hope Emory would never, ever get out of Division III,” he says. “All you’ve got to do is walk down the hall and see the pictures of our All-Americans to know that the philosophy is a good one, and it’s working, with the emphasis on the student and academics first.”

Hanging in Clyde Partin’s office is an unassuming bit of ephemera that betokens a significant turning point for Emory’s athletics program. It’s a makeshift sign that once adorned the airplane-hangar gym, proclaiming: “Friday, June 10, 1983, 9 p.m.—This gym will close FOREVER! Gone With the Wind . . .”

When the Woodruff P.E. Center opened that spring, as Lowrey puts it, “It was like going from the outhouse to the penthouse.” With a state-of-the-art facility and a cheering section led by President James T. Laney and William H. Fox, then dean of campus life, sports at Emory began to take on new life. Lowrey became athletics director, with Partin continuing as head of physical education. All Emory needed was some first-rate varsity athletes and teams.

The famous catchphrase from the 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” proved true of Emory’s new P.E. Center. But, as Lowrey discovered, they didn’t come all at once. Recruiting quality student athletes in those early years was a challenge. Lowrey recalls putting up desperate signs saying “Joggers Wanted” to attract students for the cross-country teams. “We recruited anybody we could,” he says. Still, “Some of those people, both men and women, turned out to be very competitive.”

Recruiting competitive athletes to Emory is a much easier job today than it was in 1983. With each year that the athletics program improves, Gordon and the University coaching staff gain a bit more leverage to draw top student athletes. Just five years ago, the coaches did most of the courting; these days, though, it’s not unusual for notable high school athletes to pick up the phone and call Emory coaches to inquire about joining their team.

“I always planned to swim on a college team,” says senior Rebecca Mutz, now a seven-time All-American who holds five varsity swim records. “When I looked at Emory, the academic reputation was very important to me. And obviously the swim program was a very big factor.”

The last major component of Emory’s sports scene fell into place in the mid-1980s with the formation of the University Athletic Association. Prior to its establishment, Emory struggled to find sure footing among competitor institutions. Many of the University’s peers, such as Duke and Vanderbilt, had Division I athletic organizations that regularly trounced Emory’s young teams. Yet Emory had higher athletic aspirations than most other Division III schools, small liberal arts colleges such as the University of the South.

Fortunately, Emory wasn’t the only university adrift without anchor in the sea of college sports. The UAA was the brainchild of leaders from Brandeis, Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Chicago, New York University, the University of Rochester, Washington University, and Emory. The new conference, which saw its first competition in 1987, provided a steadying force and a more level playing field for varsity athletes at these eight partner institutions.

“Once we had a context, once we belonged to this new conference, we could play some local schools but our main competition was the UAA,” Lowrey says. “Since that point we have done extremely well in the UAA. These are our peer institutions. Everyone, including faculty, was very happy because they felt it was right context for us.”

The years that followed the birth of the UAA were—and continue to be—the salad days for sports at Emory. In seven years, Lowrey took Emory’s athletics program from seven varsity teams to seventeen. By the time he stepped down, half those teams were in the top twenty-five in their national division, and forty percent of those student athletes were on the dean’s list. In 1990, Chuck Gordon came to Emory from Rhodes College to take over as athletics director, aiming to build on the foundation Lowrey had created.

Now, nearly a dozen years later, Emory is highly competitive both in the UAA and in the NCAA Division III. Evidence of the University’s winning program can be found on its scoreboards, in its sweeping national records, and in the ever-increasing quality of its student athletes.

Students are at the heart of athletics at Emory. And Emory’s 330 varsity athletes must be equal to the University’s rigorous challenges in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. The sports stars of recent years have demonstrated considerable agility when it comes to juggling their sports and studies.

“Our athletes have to be able to compete at a higher level now than they did ten years ago,” Gordon says. “Our academic profile has gone up at the same time. With both scales rising, it’s a challenge to find students who meet both standards, which is why we recruit all over the country. The Ivies are our biggest overlap for recruiting athletes.”

Shane, a Woodruff scholar who has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout his career at Emory, is also one of the swim team’s top racers and an Academic All-American athlete several times over. He isn’t one to shirk difficulty: his academic major is neuroscience and behavioral biology, and his best stroke is the notoriously strenuous butterfly.

“Emory does a great job of helping you find the right balance between sports and academics,” Shane says. “What works best for me is, when I’m done with swim practice in the evening and come back to my room, all I have to do is sit down and start my work. The schedule actually helps me stay focused and organized.”

Mutz, a fellow All-American swimmer, has twice been voted the most valuable player on her team. She received the Jeff D. McCord Award, given to the most outstanding individual athlete at Emory, in her junior year. She is also an economics major with a 3.9 GPA.

“Our coach always stresses that academics come first, but he never downplays the importance of making practice a high priority,” she says. “Swimming has actually helped me excel in school. We have a very close-knit team, and if I ever need help in a subject, there’s always someone who’s taken that class.”

Swim coach John Howell, who has led his team of sixty swimmers to the second place spot in the country, says both these swimmers “represent the highest ideals of our program.” As a coach, Howell says, Emory affords him the opportunity to see his student athletes as more than just numbers on a scoreboard.

“Both Becky and Tom had Division I opportunities out of high school, but they chose Emory because they felt here they could swim at that D-1 level but were also supported to pursue the academics they were interested in,” Howell says. “The key is, students have to be at a level where they can take advantage of both kinds of opportunities, and have to want that balance and be comfortable with it. All the kids I have are tremendous overachievers and all are pushing the envelope both in the classroom and in the pool. My job is to help them stay on track and succeed at both.”

Staying on the track to success doesn’t come so easily to every student athlete. Senior Sarah Byrd, a cross-country runner majoring in English and women’s studies, says she started out at the back of the team during her freshman year, when she found herself struggling with an injury and the pressures of school and team commitments.

But with the encouragement of coach John Curtin, her teammates, and her professors, Byrd went on to become one of the most competitive runners on the team, earning All-American status and helping Emory finish sixteenth in the national championships in 2001. She runs an average of seventy miles a week, while her grade point average has hovered around 3.5.

“If I had the type of freshman year I had here at a bigger sports school, I don’t think I would have come back to run again,” Byrd says. “Here, they let me grow up through running cross-country, whereas at another school, they would have said, ‘Nice try, but we’re looking for somebody faster.’ Now I will continue running competitively for as long as I can. Having a chance to compete in college fosters a really great love for the sport.”

Adam Carlson ’01C, now a laboratory technician in the new Whitehead research building pathology lab, also ran cross country for Emory and was a five-time Academic All-American. As a White Scholar with an eye on medical school (which he plans to attend next year), Carlson says the balancing act was tough, but running lent immeasurable richness to his college experience. Like many university athletes, he says competing in college gave him a foundation for lifelong fitness and health.

“You get to a point with running where it becomes so ingrained in your daily routine, if you don’t do it, something is missing, and your day just isn’t complete,” says Carlson, who still runs miles each day.

For most student athletes, their team makes up their central social network and forms their most vivid college memories. “I think soccer is definitely what will stick out in my mind when I look back on Emory,” says Sorgatz, who helped her team finish first in the UAA and make it to the final sixteen round in the NCAA last year. (The Emory women’s soccer team also had the fifth-highest GPA in the nation.) “Every year we had at least one big win that was exciting and record-breaking.”

On a chilly evening in February, about thirty Emory fans are gathered in the stands at a women’s basketball game. The Eagles are playing Sewanee, a longtime rival. The crowd may be sparse, but it offers noisy encouragement, with onlookers calling to each of the players by name. The quick-moving athletes, most of whom have long hair pulled back in tight ponytails, are flushed with exertion and intensity. It’s a close game. Emory wins, 76-68, while just outside the gymnasium doors, dozens of students and staff members lift weights and work out on Stairmaster machines in front of a row of TV screens tuned to CNN.

Just about all that remains for Emory’s sports program is to trumpet its achievements a bit louder and, hopefully, cultivate greater community support. With the University’s health sciences center rapidly achieving international prominence, research projects attracting funding to the tune of more than $200 million annually, and Emory’s reputation on all academic fronts gaining increasing prestige, sports are not exactly what puts Emory in the news. To outside observers, Emory is defined as much by its lack of a football team as the University of Georgia is defined by Bulldog enthusiasm.

Gordon, for the most part, accepts that Emory’s tremendous athletic advances are met with only offhand appreciation. Considering the local competition, such as Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, he doesn’t expect headlines in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Of course, he wouldn’t mind a few more faces in the bleachers at winter basketball games, or louder cheers from the stands by the soccer field.

Still, Gordon says, sports at Emory has maintained its focus: the student athletes. As their success grows, the University’s athletic profile will continue to rise, and bigger crowds are sure to follow.

“We are glad to be a nice piece of what Emory’s all about,” Gordon says. “Sure, we would like to be better known on campus, have more fan support. But we have never put the justification for our program in the hands of fans, but in the quality of the student experience. That’s the focus, the 330 students that are part of our program right now. The thing I am most proud of is that our student athletes get every chance to showcase their abilities, on the field and in the classroom. We do everything we can to let them be the best they can be.”




© 2002 Emory University