On March 30, we celebrated the 53rd consecutive Spring Sing, our longest running tradition. Incredible energy, skits, dazzling side acts and two fantastic emcees, Shanon Balram, assistant director of student life, and senior Sara Reinis, contributed to a great evening. I’m always amazed to witness the lengths to which our students go to tell a story and (usually) make a point.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Harry Marra, Ashton Eaton’s coach. Ashton Eaton is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon and a former University of Oregon track star. He spends his winters in Santa Barbara training at Westmont. I grew up in Eugene, and the university formed the epicenter of our lives. The great athletes there often appeared on the front pages of the newspaper and commanded our attention. One of my favorites was Steve Prefontaine, the legendary track and field star who died tragically in 1975.
Meeting Harry for the first time and wanting to establish context for our conversation, I told him about watching Pre as a kid. We immediately fell into a wonderful exchange as I shared about growing up on the west side of Eugene, an area Pre frequented when he did his long roadwork. He was always a fan favorite and a real pied piper for children. He possessed an unusual magnetism that drew us all to cheer for him. I have so many memories of Pre, but the most prominent relates to his sheer determination and incredible will to win. Opponents tried every tactic to beat him, but Pre habitually pursued excellence, which made him unyielding.
But then it ended. After a weekend meet against Lasse Viren and the Finnish national team, Pre died while driving home from a post-meet party. I was a sophomore in high school when my dad woke us up early on the morning of May 30, 1975, to tell us the sad news. Reports were rolling in of a tragic car accident, a mysterious second car and the inevitable reality that Pre was dead. Some of the circumstances surrounding his death are well known while many others remain shrouded in mystery, only fueling the legend.
As I left my conversation with Harry, my mind turned to our own athletes and the Golden Eagle celebration April 2. The Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner is one of our favorite events of the year, where we honor the accomplishments of the athlete from each team who has earned the highest GPA. The evening reflects the best of Westmont as we celebrate the “student” in student-athlete. In 2006, Harry Lewis, former dean of humanities at Harvard, wrote Excellence without a Soul, a penetrating critique of all that has gone wrong with colleges and universities. But in a rare moment of praise, Lewis turns his attention to college athletics and notes this is one of the few places where you still see a sense of sacrifice and dedication to a higher ideal, where students are invited to develop virtues of discipline and self-sacrifice and have the rare opportunity to pursue purposes and goals greater than themselves. There is much in Lewis’ critique that is sobering, but his praise of athletics is noteworthy and reminds us of all that can go right when college athletics plays its proper role in our mission. This year’s Warrior teams have achieved some wonderful successes. More importantly, they have excelled in the classroom and continue to grow in their stature and maturity as members of our college community.