President Isiaah Crawford on the role of athletics at Puget Sound.
Q: Puget Sound athletics just received a huge boost: a historic $10 million gift. What will that make possible?
A: Obviously, we’re very excited about the Tom and Meg Names Family Foundation’s gift. It’ll be transformational for us. Athletics plays a key role in advancing our mission and goals, and we’re committed to building a championship culture centered on the student-athlete experience. We aspire to have our sports teams be routinely competitive at the national level. We believe that will create energy and excitement on campus, promote a sense of pride among our students and alumni, enhance student recruitment and community engagement, and increase the visibility of the university. Some people might be surprised that a gift of this magnitude went to athletics. Well, both Tom and Meg believed in the power of the student-athlete experience to provide unique opportunities to develop habits of mind and skills that foster a strong work ethic, personal responsibility, teamwork, leadership, and time management. We agree with the perspective they held. These are attributes and qualities that are attractive to employers, and they also help make for fantastic human beings and citizens. This incredibly generous gift will help us in the promotion of the holistic development and well-being of our student-athletes, which will position them for lifelong success.
Q: And I believe the statistic has long been that one in four students at Puget Sound is involved in intercollegiate athletics.
A: Yes, actually, this year, 27% of our students are engaged in varsity athletics.
Q: I know you especially love Division III sports, with its relative purity and its emphasis on playing for the love of the game.
A: Absolutely. With Division III, the emphasis is fully on the student-athlete, where rigorous academic study is wonderfully blended with the pure joy of engaging in one’s sport and athletic competition. I just really love seeing that made manifest at the Division III level. It’s a thrill to observe.
Q: And it doesn’t have to mean not being competitive, right? In fact, you talk about building a championship culture. How will this gift help?
A: One of the reasons we’re excited about the gift is that it will support our Puget Sound Performance Success initiative, which focuses on three areas. The first is physical readiness: The gift will enhance our strength and conditioning programming for student-athletes, which will help elevate their athletic prowess, so they can compete at the highest levels. The second component is wellness—we will be able to further offer intentional and proactive care for our student-athletes and enhance our ability to support their physical and mental health and safety. And third, the gift will allow us to promote the personal and professional development of our student-athletes, to help them learn how to use the skills they’re developing from their athletic activities in their personal and professional lives. Through all of that, we believe our student-athletes will be able to compete at the highest levels—in all aspects of their lives.
Q: How close are we to having that championship culture?
A: This past fall, we were very close: Our women’s soccer and women’s volleyball teams made it to the NCAA championships. And we’ve had other types of success across the years. Our hope is that with the generosity of this gift, we’ll routinely see our teams compete at the highest levels—so much so that we’ll grow accustomed to it.
Q: How about you? You’ve been an athlete all your life. Are you still playing softball?
A: I am. Thank you for remembering that. I play in a league up in Seattle, and I’m looking forward to our 2023 season; I’m hopeful that my knees will hold up. I played last year—I primarily play second base, sometimes right or left center—and I had a great time. The team is very generous to me, given the demands on my time with the university. I’m essentially a part-part-part-time player, but the team is gracious in allowing me to continue to play with them.