Celebrating Champions, Celebrating Relationships W&L Alumni Magazine Summer 2016

One of my favorite end-of-year events at Washington and Lee is the annual athletic awards ceremony each May when our varsity athletes -462 of them this year - join their coaches and the athletic staff in Lee Chapel to receive the honors that they have earned during the year.

These are occasions to celebrate not just the victories and championships, but also the spirit and camaraderie within each of our 24 varsity teams and throughout the athletic department.

This year's celebration was the climax of an unprecedented year in which the Generals won a record 11 Old Dominion Athletic Conference championships. Four teams won titles during a 24-hour span in early May when men's and women's lacrosse and men's and women's tennis all prevailed in their postseason tournaments. The other team titles in 2015-16 were in football (unbeaten in the regular season), men's soccer, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's swimming, and men's golf (tied for third in the NCAA national championships).

Outstanding performances by all the teams brought Washington and Lee the ODAC Commissioner's Cup, signifying the best overall performance throughout the year, for the 19th time in 21 years.

In addition to team honors, individual athletes and coaches were recognized throughout the year for both athletic and academic accomplishments, including at this writing:

  • 13 individual invitees to NCAA postseason events
  • 5 First-Team NCAA All-Americans
  • 4 ODAC Players of the Year
  • 6 ODAC Scholar-Athletes of the Year
  • 11 ODAC Rookies of the Year
  • 68 First-Team All-ODAC 
  • 10 ODAC Coaches of the Year

Those are merely the highlights. A complete account of the year's success, including the names of all individual champions, is at myw.lu/generals_2016.

Watching the presentation of all the trophies and awards, I paid particular attention the obvious delight that the coaches took in the recognition of their players' achievements. This reminded me of a passage from our Statement of Institutional Philosophy, which was composed by two of the University's late leaders, President John Wilson and English Professor Sidney Coulling, almost three decades ago:

The University recognizes teaching as its central function. It believes that the personal association of its students with a highly qualified and motivated faculty holds the greatest promise of inspiring in them a respect and thirst for knowledge that will continue throughout their lives.

To be sure, this refers to people like Sid Coulling himself and to all the W&L teacher-scholars whose impact on our students extends well beyond the classrooms and laboratories and well beyond their four years here.

But the statement applies equally to Washington and Lee's coaches who foster a particular kind of personal association that translates into the remarkable success we've had on the courts and fields this year.

A confession: I am a fervent idealist who believes that athletic competition builds character and that the vocation of coaching is among the most noble anyone can choose.

I believe that at W&L our coaches teach by example and demeanor, imparting some of the most important lessons our students learn - lessons that stick with them throughout their lives. We were, then, celebrating more than our championship seasons on that May evening; we were celebrating special relationships that inspire.