There is a higher ed scar that I wear. One that I think about often and struggle with. This week has been a reflective time for me and one where I have tried to be honest with myself about when I was at my best and when I am not. This is a story of when I was not at my best.
When I was 28 the dean of students at my university was fired for embezzling money from the university. All the units in his portfolio were parceled out and I was given the responsibility to oversee the sprit teams. And at my university cheer and dance were BIG. We had won nearly 10 national championships when I got there, and we won many more after I arrived at the program. I have to say, winning was quite a rush. And this is how I got my scar.
From the beginning the advice was to make sure I won at all costs. That our board of Trustees and the VPSA loved winning and wanted to keep that up. I was told funding was even tied to winning. Lose for a few years and watch this get buried. I got to say, for a 28-year-old with a newborn that was scary. And from jump I found there were real problems with the program. Some of the athletes were well known for taking narcotics, one of our coaches was carrying on an inappropriate relationship with some members of the team and there was rampant academic dishonesty. The teams also had a fraternity that included hazing.
It was so much, so quick, I must admit, I froze under the pressure and allowed much is the issues to fester and endure long past when they needed to. Sure, I had the team drug tested, I did grade checks, and we did sessions on hazing, but I never really put my foot down or cleaned house. I lived under a constant worry that to clean house would make it so we lost and that was bad and there was so much I just didn’t know where to start. And guess what? We won and won big! National Championships, Partner Stunts, you name it. We kicked butt!
However, it never felt right. I knew we were not doing this right and that would come back to haunt us. But here is the kicker, it never really did. Despite my poor performance we won, and most people were none the wiser. But I knew and that killed me. Just like the Cask of Amontillado I had evaded big trouble but the guilt I had would whisper to me.
Over time we did clean everything up for the most part. I hired some new coaches who wanted to run a clean program, I allowed other people to review our rules and help to make collective decisions, and I just came to the realization that health needed to feature over wealth. Winning a title that was earned with poor ethics is not worth the effort. And that is what I have taken with me for some time. Above all, students first mean students safe and that sometimes comes at the price of missed glory. So that scar, one earned 20 years ago is still there and it sometimes rears its head to remind me that I need to listen to my inner voice that reminds me why we got into this field to begin with. I will leave off with this. Since I have left the university, the dance coach I hired has run a brilliant program and he has created a culture of winning with class and pride. I hope that my learning and growth helped to make that happen. TJ Maple is a great guy who has helped hundreds of spirit team members grow and become great adults. The scars are lessons.