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School of Arts and Sciences

Tufts Athletics Raises the Bar

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New facilities, school spirit, and national recognition bring a new face to Jumbo sports

Fans Cheering on Student Athletes

By Alexandra Erath

Fans cheer on the Tufts Women's Soccer team during the match against Wesleyan. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Students and visitors walk through the Kraft Family Atrium at the newly opened Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center, Sept. 19, 2012. (Emily Zilm for Tufts University)

Tufts midfielder Peter Gill, A16, fights through a check from a Norwich defender in Tufts' 26-4 victory at Bello Field in the first round of the NCAA Division III Championships in May, 2013. (Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

Team captains Tufts shortstop Emily Beinecke, A13, Tufts pitcher Rebecca DiBiase, A13, and Tufts catcher Jo Clair, A14, hoist the trophy after winning the NCAA Division III College World Series championship game against SUNY Cortland on Monday, May 20, 2013. The Jumbos defeated the Red Dragons 6-5. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Five years ago, the entrance to Tufts University's athletics facilities was next to a loading dock. Cousens Gym, considered state-of-the-art upon its opening in 1932, was undersized and cramped. Most of the athletics offices shared space with the computer science department in Halligan Hall, and the rest were scattered across campus. The athletics facilities were unlikely to make a memorable first impression on prospective student-athletes.

That is, until the new Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center opened in the fall of 2012. The brand-new 42,000 square-foot building boasts a premier fitness center, new locker rooms, an improved sports medicine suite, and two wings dedicated to the administrative and coaching branches of athletics.

So how has the Tufts community responded?

Athletics Director Bill Gehling says he couldn't be happier with the facility. "The new fitness center gives an entirely new face to the athletics program," said Gehling. "Before the Tisch Center opened, well, that just wasn't the impression you wanted Tufts Athletics to make."

Senior softball player Jo Clair agrees that the decision to build the new gym showed that the Tufts administration thought that Athletics was on the rise. "The new gym finally brings the physical building up to the high level of what the athletics programs are putting on the field," she said.

Several other recent facility improvements demonstrate the administrative support of Tufts Athletics, including a sailing pavilion, the renovation of the Cousens Gym basketball arena, and construction of a boathouse for the rowing teams.

And, in the last five years alone, Tufts Athletics has made tremendous leaps forward. In 2010, men's lacrosse won Tufts' first-ever NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) team title in Division III. In the same year, Julia Browne earned the NCAA singles title. Johann Schmidt was the 2012 NCAA diving champion. During the 2012-2013 school year, the field hockey and softball teams each captured the NCAA Division III title.

Clair, a member of last year's championship softball team, credits the new facilities with recent athletic victories. "I don't see it as a surprise that the new facilities open the same year that two of our teams win the national championship," she says. "This huge improvement in our facilities is definitely translating to success on the field."

Fan the Fire, a program spawned in 2011 by two student-athletes with the support of the administration, has also contributed to the Athletics experience at Tufts. With the tagline "Spirit, Sports, Service," Fan the Fire's goal is to increase school spirit at athletics events while partnering with service organizations to raise support for worthy causes.

"You can bring the entire community together through a Fan The Fire event," says senior hockey and baseball player Tim Mitropoulos, who is president of Fan The Fire's parent organization, SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee). When you bring in a cause, like Relay for Life - an overnight community fundraising walk for the American Cancer Society - "more people can connect for a common goal," he adds.

Clair says Fan The Fire has noticeably increased attendance at Tufts sporting events. "More people see how strong Athletics is and want to come out to more events," she explains. "Enthusiasm for sports overall has increased with Fan the Fire, and can only go up."

Tufts Athletics has enjoyed a long history of competitive success, but proof that the Jumbos are winning more than ever can be found in the Learfield Sports Director's Cup rankings. In four of the last five years, Tufts has placed in the top-10 of the Director's Cup, which ranks schools based on finishes in variety of NCAA team championships. Over 300 schools are considered for the Director's Cup.

"You don't score highly in the Director's Cup unless your program is really, really strong," Gehling says. "Now we're at the point where top 10 or top 20 finishes are starting to be the norm."

Many members of Tufts Athletics consider the program's recent successes will continue into a long-term upward trend. Gehling believes the program has been improving steadily for the last decade. Men's tennis coach Jaime Kenney agrees, saying the program offers the best of both worlds to student-athletes. She cites the philosophy of balance: "We've got really talented, intelligent kids who want to compete at a very high level and also succeed academically."

In addition to competitive success and community involvement, Tufts Athletics strives to provide a great experience for student-athletes as an extension of the academic program. The department also offers its Fitness & Individual Development (F.I.T.) pre-orientation program to promote healthy living to incoming students and a Personalized Performance fitness program for all members of the Tufts community.

Mitropoulos, now in his fourth and final year at Tufts, notes that the new facilities, increased awareness of sports on campus, and national recognition for teams, means that students are "coming to the facilities every day, working out, always wanting to get better. "Athletics has really hit its stride," he says.