When Texas Wesleyan University president Frederick Slabach spoke during the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame banquet Friday night, he noted that athletes “learn lessons because of their time In sports.”
The department inducted six honorees. Each gave an induction speech in which they referenced sporting achievements. Golfer Ian Leggatt, now a golf commentator in his native Canada, talked about playing on the PGA Tour. Ben Hunt talked about the game-winning shot he hit to give the Rams their first NAIA basketball title. Table tennis icon Jasna Rather talked about the support she’d received as an athlete and a coach.
But it was also clear that the support they received from athletics went way beyond their sports. Basketball player Sam Morrow talked of how the qualities athletics instilled in her proved a driving force in overcoming breast cancer. Hunt referenced how what he learned at Wesleyan helped him achieve a life dream, not just a basketball dream, by playing professionally in his native Australia.
Most notably, Mike Krsnak teared up when talking about Bobby Cornett, his golf coach at TWU. Cornett, who has been a part of multiple NAIA national titles in men’s golf at the school, missed the event due to health issues. Rather also spoke about how Cornett helped start the university’s program in her sport, and how grateful she was to him for that. Leggatt said he would not have played on the PGA Tour if not for the influence of Cornett. The coach, he said, “taught me about respect for the game, respect for my teammates.” He also taught him that “desire, dedication, and hard work will always defeat talent.” Those sorts of lessons go way beyond learning to hit a golf ball long and straight.
Rather encapsulated how sports are worth more than wins and losses when she suggested that the night’s honor meant more to her than her Olympic medals. She said it was because of family – her husband and daughter who were there that night and her work family at Texas Wesleyan.
The highlight of the evening for me came when former Wesleyan baseball coach Larry Smith acknowledged the man who had hired him at Wesleyan as the “best athletic director” for whom he ever worked. I happened to be sitting next to that former AD, because he’s my father, Ed Olson. I grew up crawling and running across TWU’s (then called TWC) gyms, courts, and fields and I remember my dad coaching or supporting the school’s teams. The main priority of “Pops” (as my sister and I call him) or “Doc” (as his players called him) sounded a lot like what President Slabach said. Ed Olson worked hard to make sure the rest of the faculty and staff understood the positive role intercollegiate athletics and physical education could play for the students they were developing. And not just for men – he coached the first women’s basketball and volleyball teams there. I know, because I was at those games trying to get my mom to buy me a candy bar at halftime.
Somehow those experiences ended up with me finding a career in sports. But even for those who don’t become blog writers or pro basketball players or golf media hosts, the athletic experience can be valuable. I was pleased to see that the school where I spent so much of my youth still recognizes it.