Traintracks on Campus

Impact 2019

Athletics focusing on gender equity and coaches as mentors

Pioneer athletics are special and the student-athlete experience at Grinnell College is unique. The program provides a welcoming environment to students from their first day on campus, to their walk across the stage at commencement.

Student-athletes find their home-away-from-home in the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Center for Recreation and Athletics or on outdoor fields surrounding it, And they discover their new families within each other and their coaches. Just like any family, they compete with and challenge each other, at the same time they give encouragement and support, says Grinnell Athletics Director Andy Hamilton ’85.

“The rich history that Pioneer athletics has with Grinnell College truly contributes to the college experience of students, for both the athletes on the field and those cheering in the stands,” Hamilton says. “Coaches and staff firmly believe that what students learn from challenging themselves physically translates into confidence and success in life. By valuing and embracing all forms of diversity, we provide opportunities that stimulate personal growth and awareness within an inclusive, gender-equitable environment.”

Grinnell women’s tennis coach Paige Madara gives a high-five to a tennis player.
Grinnell women’s tennis coach Paige Madara gives a high-five to a tennis player.

In 2018, John ’85 and Jill Kispert generously established the Fund for Athletic Excellence, which immediately made a strong, positive impact. Established upon the Kisperts’ deep belief that participation in athletics builds character, vital life skills, and passion that translates into every phase and endeavor of life, the fund addressed needs and initiatives in Grinnell athletics, including support for employment opportunities with a focus on gender equity and the provision of programmatic support that positions Grinnell athletics as an NCAA leader. 

“Grinnell is a place where everyone is part of something bigger than themselves and where people work and play with others who are far different from themselves,” says John Kispert. “Moreover, athletics provide unique opportunities for students to encounter differences and learn from each other – on the field and on the court.”

With the fund, the department expanded the assistant coaching model so that now every team sport has at least one part-time coach assigned to the program. As a result, the number of coaches for women’s teams rose a significant 37 percent. 

With a core value of inclusive excellence, Pioneer athletics value and embrace all forms of diversity. Mandatory team training sessions are regularly held to address these topics. Groups such as Queer Athletes and Allies, and International Athletes and Allies were created to offer support for student-athletes, educational programming, and activities. 

The students and coaches consider this progressive and forward-thinking training incredibly valuable, Hamilton says. Every team, coach, staff member, and administrator of the department participated and completed an assessment, which is used to determine goals, create a strategic plan, and develop an annual report card used to measure progress.

“What I am most proud of did not occur on the pitch or out on the track; it happened in classrooms and in locker rooms,” says former women’s soccer player Jordan Maddaus ’19. “I have seen firsthand how dialogue between student-athletes, coaches, the athletic director, the training staff, and faculty working in wellness promotion has reshaped how athletics is done. We still place a high focus on athletic accomplishments, but a greater emphasis is placed on inclusion, diversity, well-being, and open dialogue. Being a part of athletics has been the most important, most enjoyable, and most transformative experience of my time here at Grinnell.” 

Students and faculty equally benefit from an integrated, co-curricular experience that upholds the academic mission of the College. Pioneer athletics celebrates academic excellence, emphasizes experiential learning with the coaches and, just as importantly, from each other.

“At Grinnell, we are proud that we not only bring together people from different backgrounds, we celebrate the diverse experiences and perspectives that each individual contributes,” Hamilton says.   

— by Laurel Knox