Whitman athletics seeks connection to WW

Andy Jobanek

At a Whitman varsity athletic event, a student is bound to see their friends, other students, professors and a handful of retired professors and alumni, but where are the Walla Walla community members? What’s their interest in Whitman athletics?

“It’s lukewarm,” said Jim Buchan, sports editor of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin for the last 26 years.

“The community interest in Whitman athletics isn’t nearly what it could be,” said Whitman Athletic Director Dean Snider.

“It’s not as much as it’s going to be,” said current Men’s Basketball Head Coach Skip Molitor in a phone interview.

Molitor’s statement is hopeful because he has recently been promoted to the new position of assistant athletic director and a priority of his new job will be to build stronger relations between the community and the athletic department. Molitor will officially begin that job on July 1. His successor as basketball coach is still unknown.

The creation of the assistant athletic director came from Snider’s own desire to increase the level of excitement about Whitman sports in Walla Walla. Snider realized that nobody could juggle coaching responsibilities and the new position’s responsibilities at the same time, so he petitioned the college for the funds to create the new role.

Part of the reason that this effort for greater community relationships hasn’t happened before is because Whitman hasn’t had an assistant athletic director. The new position allows one person to focus on the community rather than many already busy coaches trying to fill that role.

“Everyone is really very busy with their task of trying to fill a roster and coach that roster and everyone’s been doing their job and working very hard at doing the things that they need to do and now with this new added resource we can step up and do something we all wish we could do a better job of,” said Snider.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I think the colleges in town, both, or all three face the same fate, whatever you want to call it, because if you can put winning teams on the field and if you can have some local additions to it, some local contributions like somebody from Wa-Hi, DeSales or even the surrounding area, then you will have additional interest,” said Buchan.

Buchan also made the point that the dramatic increase in sports coverage on channels like ESPN has caused people to be less inclined to go out to any sporting events.

One strategy in regaining the community’s interest that both Snider and Molitor mentioned was for Whitman’s varsity athletes to help out in putting on several clinics for the youth in Walla Walla. This is something Whitman teams have done in the past with great success. Some of the camps have even been done in Spanish to welcome in the large Hispanic community in Walla Walla.

With the new assistant athletic director position, Molitor will be able to increase the frequency of these clinics and be able to scrutinize their quality with a focus that Whitman’s busy coaches weren’t able to do before.

“A lot of it’s taking the things that we have done and just committing more time and resources to do them more frequently and better,” said Molitor.

This idea received praise from Buchan as well.

“If you’re at an elementary school here and Faidley or somebody shows up and helps you to learn some basketball skills and you know he’s playing that night, you may ask your dad, ‘Hey, I’d like to go watch the game,'” said Buchan.

The athletic department is also interested in bringing more groups in from the larger community to perform at some athletic events. Whitties may remember the jump roping kids that performed at half time and the energy they brought with them during one of the Whitman basketball games last season. That sort of energy and interest is what Snider and Molitor are interested in replicating for more than just a couple games a season.

One example of Whitman athletes already helping out in the community happened last Saturday, April 5, when several of the varsity teams assisted in the memorial for the pole vaulter from DeSales Catholic High School that died in a tragic accident during practice. The community took note of this and was very thankful for their service.