“Some call them scholar-athletes. I like that they are scholar-champions!”
So tweeted Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton Feb. 20, 2017, as a banner was hung in the Quad recognizing the women’s soccer team as the 2016 NCAA Division III National Champions.
Whether tweeting affirmations, giving pep talks, cheering at the games or hosting championship celebrations, Chancellor Wrighton has been one of Bears sports’ biggest fans. And over the years, he’s had many opportunities to appreciate and acknowledge Washington University’s amazing athletes and their triumphs.
“There are some aspects of the university that have been really fun for me,” Wrighton says. “One is athletics. I’ve enjoyed the spectator sports, and we’ve had tremendous success.”
During his tenure, the Bears won 170 UAA championships and 18 NCAA Division III championships, with both women’s volleyball and basketball capturing five national titles apiece. Volleyball now has a total of 10 championships to its credit. Further, 19 student-athletes and three relay teams have won a combined 28 individual NCAA championships in their respective sports.
“John Schael was director of athletics for 36 years and now has been succeeded by Anthony Azama,” Wrighton says. “We’ve had great teams, outstanding coaches and staff and, of course, amazing students whom we call scholar-champions.”
Wrighton is keen to recognize the scholar side of the “scholar-champions” equation. Tweeting on Sept. 14, 2017, he applauded the women’s track and field team’s academic achievement: “Thanks to the scholar-champions of Washington University. Our newest champions had a cumulative 3.55 grade-point average.”
Truly, these students leave it all on the field and in the classroom. While Wrighton has been chancellor, 97 scholar-champions were recognized with Academic All-American honors. And several garnered additional impressive honors: Brad Klein, BS ’98, a star linebacker, for example, received the prestigious Woody Hayes National Scholar-Athlete Award in 1998; women’s basketball center Alia Fischer, AB ’00, won the Jostens Trophy for the premier DIII student-athlete in 2000; Brandon Roberts, MD, BSBME ’03, was named the 2002 Healthsouth Draddy Award Recipient, which is referred to as the “Academic Heisman” for college football; men’s basketball star Troy Ruths, BS ’08, was named ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America Player of the year in 2007 as well as the Jostens DIII Player of the Year and Final Four MVP in 2008; Liz Phillips, BS ’12, who held a 4.0 grade-point average as a biomedical engineering student as well as the indoor mile and outdoor 1,500m records, earned the 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year award; and women’s soccer goalkeeper Lizzy Crist, BS ’17, was named the 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year.
“The Washington University Athletics Program is what it is today because of Chancellor Wrighton’s incredible wisdom and leadership,” John Schael says. “He has been a tremendous advocate for athletic values and how they enhance the educational experience of the young women and men of the university, as well as for Title IX and facility enhancements, coaches and more. In my years as director of athletics, I could not have had a better teammate.”
Competing in the University Athletic Association conference in Division III — a conference that prioritizes academic achievement — these scholar-champions do not play in front of sold-out crowds in megavenues, but the enthusiasm of their devoted fans is no less evident. And one of those most devoted has been Chancellor Wrighton.
“We have a tremendous program,” he says, “and I’m looking forward to following athletics as I continue the next phase of my career.”