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 years
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship
meeta competition where the Emory team took second place
competitive swimmer since he was four years old, Shane may feel
a bit waterlogged some days, but no one is especially worried
that hes going to drown.
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 hes
dry, prepare to enter medical school. The University belongs
to NCAA Division III, the category that does not allow for athletic
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.
harmony between academics and athletics is hardly a new idea
at Emory. In fact, its 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
hasnt changed, the scope and success of athletic competition
at the University have swelled dramatically, albeit unhurriedly
and with litttle fanfare.
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 Emorys previous best standing from 1997.
mens swim team took second place in the national championships,
while the womens took fourth; womens tennis ranked
third nationally; mens tennis made it to the nationwide
quarterfinals; and baseball, volleyball, and womens soccer
advanced to the sweet sixteen round in national
competition. In the regional finals, both the womens and
mens cross-country teams took first place.
the hotly competitive UAA, a separate conference made up of
eight institutions with academic profiles similar to Emorys
and a like-minded approach to athletics, nine of the eighteen
Emory varsity teams finished first for 2001. Five finished second,
and two third.
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 winnersseventhan 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.
biggest selling point has always been that were 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 youd be
hard-pressed to find a better combination than the one Emory
secret to Emorys athletic success, according to Athletics
Director Chuck Gordon, is disarmingly simple. Every year
weve tried to get a little better, he says. There
have been no huge leaps. Weve just been building on our
successes and striving to be better and better. Theres
no magic to what weve done. The magic is that we have
worked very hard with quality people, and its borne fruit.
may be flourishing now, but the relationship between Emory and
athletics has a checkered past. One of its earliest detractors
was the Universitys 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
as Emory sports historian Clyde Partin puts it, Anytime
you get a bunch of boys together, theyre going to do something.
They played tag back in those days. Theyd play anything.
The mounting tension between Candlers 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 Universitys official philosophy of Athletics
for All, put forth in the 1920s, spawned an extensive
and hugely popular intramural program that is still thriving
philosophy is still very much alive, says Gordon. With
dozens of club and intramural teams devoted to every imaginable
sportfrom rugby to water polo to the current rage, Ultimate
Frisbeehe estimates that about half of all University
undergraduates participate in non-varsity sports at some point
in their Emory careers.
the Universitys 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 closelythough
more cautiouslybehind. 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 mightor might nottake a $20 bill out of his
desk drawer to fund the trip.
because of a lack of funding and a lack of emphasis, the varsity
teams were only able to develop to a certain degree, Lowrey
the University spends $2.2 million on athletics and recreation
annually, on everything from lifeguards to plane tickets to
soccer balls. Emorys 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 Universitys emphasis
on academics over athletics has never faltered.
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 dont have athletes who just come here to play.
Sorgatz, a senior from Wheaton, Illinois, has played soccer
since she was knee-high, but she wasnt sure she wanted
the sport to hold ultimate sway over her choice of colleges.
At Emory, she plays sweeper for the womens team and maintans
a 3.6 grade point average (GPA) majoring in sociology and math.
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.
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 Universitys philosophy, growth,
would hope Emory would never, ever get out of Division III,
he says. All youve 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 its working, with the emphasis on the
student and academics first.
in Clyde Partins office is an unassuming bit of ephemera
that betokens a significant turning point for Emorys athletics
program. Its 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 . . .
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.
famous catchphrase from the 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams,
If you build it, they will come, proved true of
Emorys new P.E. Center. But, as Lowrey discovered, they
didnt 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.
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, its not
unusual for notable high school athletes to pick up the phone
and call Emory coaches to inquire about joining their team.
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.
last major component of Emorys 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 Universitys peers, such as Duke and Vanderbilt, had
Division I athletic organizations that regularly trounced Emorys
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.
Emory wasnt 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.
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.
years that followed the birth of the UAA wereand continue
to bethe salad days for sports at Emory. In seven years,
Lowrey took Emorys 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 deans
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.
nearly a dozen years later, Emory is highly competitive both
in the UAA and in the NCAA Division III. Evidence of the Universitys
winning program can be found on its scoreboards, in its sweeping
national records, and in the ever-increasing quality of its
are at the heart of athletics at Emory. And Emorys 330
varsity athletes must be equal to the Universitys 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.
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,
its 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.
a Woodruff scholar who has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout
his career at Emory, is also one of the swim teams top
racers and an Academic All-American athlete several times over.
He isnt one to shirk difficulty: his academic major is
neuroscience and behavioral biology, and his best stroke is
the notoriously strenuous butterfly.
does a great job of helping you find the right balance between
sports and academics, Shane says. What works best
for me is, when Im 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.
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
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, theres always someone whos taken that class.
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.
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
on the track to success doesnt come so easily to every
student athlete. Senior Sarah Byrd, a cross-country runner majoring
in English and womens 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.
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.
I had the type of freshman year I had here at a bigger sports
school, I dont 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 were 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
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.
get to a point with running where it becomes so ingrained in
your daily routine, if you dont do it, something is missing,
and your day just isnt complete, says Carlson, who
still runs miles each day.
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 womens 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.
a chilly evening in February, about thirty Emory fans are gathered
in the stands at a womens 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. Its 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.
about all that remains for Emorys sports program is to
trumpet its achievements a bit louder and, hopefully, cultivate
greater community support. With the Universitys health
sciences center rapidly achieving international prominence,
research projects attracting funding to the tune of more than
$200 million annually, and Emorys 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.
for the most part, accepts that Emorys tremendous athletic
advances are met with only offhand appreciation. Considering
the local competition, such as Georgia Tech and the University
of Georgia, he doesnt expect headlines in the Atlanta
course, he wouldnt mind a few more faces in the bleachers
at winter basketball games, or louder cheers from the stands
by the soccer field.
Gordon says, sports at Emory has maintained its focus: the student
athletes. As their success grows, the Universitys athletic
profile will continue to rise, and bigger crowds are sure to
are glad to be a nice piece of what Emorys 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. Thats 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.