More than 3,000 people gathered May 18 to celebrate with W&J’s Class of 2019 at a commencement ceremony in the beautiful Ross Family Recreation Center. It was a joyful and inspiring occasion, though we were aware that 15 of our graduates were unable to participate. The seniors on our varsity baseball team were away to continue a winning streak that led ultimately to the NCAA Division III World Series.
The following Monday morning, we took the unusual step of conducting a special graduation ceremony for this group of men. With their families and members of our faculty present, we conferred their degrees in the lobby of Old Main, congratulating them not only for their prowess on the baseball diamond, but most importantly for their achievements in the classroom. These men exemplify W&J’s longstanding tradition of excellence in both academics and athletics, for many of them graduated with the highest academic honors and impressive records of leadership beyond baseball.
In these pages you will read about this memorable baseball season and a year when the college won the most conference championships in its history – bringing home six titles in men’s and women’s sports. Over time, W&J has won 132 conference championships and 11 NCAA national titles, with 56 of our student-athletes earning recognition as Academic All-Americans.
It is a special point of pride that our varsity athletes are highly successful students who complete their degrees on time and maintain an overall GPA at least equal to that of the student body as a whole. This is what results when faculty and coaches share a commitment to ensuring that academic performance always takes first priority. Indeed, this is nothing new at W&J. As long ago as 1906, Professor Edward Linton was a national leader in advocating for strict eligibility standards for intercollegiate athletes, laying the groundwork for the organization that became the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), of which W&J was one of 39 founding members.
We believe it is important that our athletes compete in the NCAA’s Division III, a league established in 1973 that now comprises approximately 450 colleges and universities committed to an ideal of college athletes who are students first. By mutual agreement, our institutions maintain shorter practice and playing seasons to ensure that students have time for their studies. We also prohibit awarding athletic scholarships, a policy that gives students the freedom to compete in multiple sports or to withdraw from athletics altogether without losing their scholarship aid.
At a time when some voices in media and politics are quick to point out the excesses of the win-at-all-costs culture in big college sports, W&J remains a place where athletic participation supports academic success, strengthens character, instills a competitive spirit, and builds lifelong capacities for leadership and collaboration with diverse peers.
With my gratitude,
John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President and Professor