The 2010-2011 athletic year saw Oberlin teams reach new heights, and College administrators have matched that success over the past several months. William Roth was hired as the new Delta Lodge Director of Athletics, coming from a successful program at the University of Pennsylvania with fresh ideas and a fresh attitude. Roth has spearheaded several new changes to both the facilities and the culture of the department to complement continued growth on the field by both the Yeomen and Yeowomen.
Recent changes to the facilities have been minor — most notably in the form of “Go Yeo” window decals in the cardio hallway of Philips Gymnasium, which allow exercisers to look out but prevent passers-by from staring in, an improvement students seem happy with.
“I think they’re pretty awesome,” said senior field hockey player Kiri Brenner. “They make us look like a legitimate gym! Also, they let the people working out do some quality people watching without being watched themselves — it’s a sweet setup.”
Philips has seen more significant changes as recently as last spring, when the interior floor of the main entryway was redone and new hardwood was installed in the main basketball gym, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
Brenner echoed the sentiment. “I would love to see some new treadmills in our cardio room,” she said. “It would also be really great to see some more creative and weird athletics courses —like Intro to Scuba Diving or Curling 101.”
Adding equipment and classes will unfortunately be a hard sell for the near future, considering the factors of space and budgetary constraints.
“We are looking at renovating lockers,” said William Roth, “maybe at renovating Savage Stadium, really analyzing Carr Pool, which has given us 40 years of tremendous life…. We want to make changes that won’t only benefit our varsity teams but won’t be just cosmetic either. I think the challenge is that these things require a lot of money, but that money can’t come unless people are properly motivated. It’s about trying to get folks to accept the picture of what we could be. It’s like the phrase ‘you have to crawl before you can walk.’ It’s going to be a multi-year endeavor.”
In the meantime, Roth and the rest of the department are working on developing a culture where students, student-athletes, faculty, coaches and community members feel proud of Oberlin athletics.
“I think we’re reshaping our identity,” said Roth. “It starts from the simple to the more complex. Simply, we use things like window treatments to get folks to think about us as being proud of being an athletic department … but it goes even to more complex things, to the way we hire our new coaches and what we’re looking for in those coaches. I think part of what drives that [change] is an attempt to create a sense of pride, a positive identity.”
Over the summer, Oberlin hired a total of eight new staff members, including Roth, to fit the department’s new attitude. Five of the positions went to assistant coaches for volleyball, field hockey, softball and men’s and women’s lacrosse, respectively. Oberlin also welcomed Erica Rau as volleyball’s new head coach.
“The new staff that I have met has been great,” said Brenner, “especially our new assistant coach on the field hockey team. Emma Sanford is wonderful and has brought a new, fun, energetic personality to our team, with a British accent as a bonus! William Roth also seems … invested in the academic and athletic success of Oberlin athletes.”
A large chunk of the responsibility for building Oberlin’s athletic culture ultimately falls on the Oberlin students. Oberlin’s new cheer team is one example of this sports-positive attitude, but there are ways for students with less pep to be involved. Attending games, respecting student-athletes for their endeavor and achievement and engaging in discourse with the higher-ups in the department are all suggestions Roth made as to how students can be involved in the process of change. “I want to be able to create an environment where we as a collective community — and I think students have to be a strong voice in this — tell us how we define, at Oberlin, in the Oberlin way, what health and wellness means,” Roth said.