As Springfield College professor of communications Marty Dobrow took to the podium at the first inaugural Sports and Social Justice Symposium, he explained that Alden Street is home to two great traditions: sports and social justice.
The idea of the symposium came from 2015’s “Tom Waddell Day,” which was an event centered on sports and social justice in its own right. As Dobrow explained, some say that Waddell is the greatest athlete in the history of Springfield College. But his post-Springfield work is what puts him on the map. Waddell was not only an Olympian, but also openly gay, and an activist for gay rights. He’s credited with creating the “Gay Games,” an event held every four years, much similar to the Olympics, but for gay people.
So, who better to be the keynote speaker of the inaugural symposium than a Springfield College graduate who encompasses those two traditions of sports and social justice better than anybody: Justin Zook.
A 2008 graduate of Springfield College’s sports management program and a standout swimmer, the Minnesota native’s story goes deep than just his work in the pool. Zook was born with dis-functioning growth plates in his right leg, and had to have most of his right foot amputated soon after birth. It was only through more than 30 surgeries that he was able to properly grow his right leg.
Diversity didn’t slow down Zook however, as he dominated swimming at the high school, collegiate and then at the Paralympic level (he became a three-time gold medalist in the 100 meter backstroke).
“Swimming was the only outlet I had that was an equal opportunity for me,” Zook said.
But as he went on to explain, it wasn’t as even as it seemed at the Paralympic level. As Zook explained, the pay gap between the United States and other countries for Paralympic athletes around the world is massive. He said that he only earned $3,000 for a gold medal, and just $1,000 for a world record. Other athletes in other countries could earn up to $50,000 for a medal, and $100,000 for a world record.
But Zook added that Springfield College became home to him because of its sense of community and the way he wasn’t treated or looked at differently for his disabilities.
“I get to bring a little bit of Springfield back with me to Minnesota,” Zook said with a laugh.
The second half of the symposium was the “Leveling the Playing Field Award,” given to the Springfield College athlete who best demonstrated an ability to fight for social justice in sports. The inaugural award was handed out to Ava Adamopolous of the women’s basketball team for her work with Lisa Hartley and Team Impact.
The award was accompanied with a heartfelt video created by the athletic department detailing Hartley’s experience with the women’s basketball team, which was narrated by Adamopolous’ essay which she submitted in consideration for the award.
At the end of the symposium, both Zook and Adamopolous lined up for a photo with Dobrow and director of athletics Craig Poisson. The sight of Zook and Adamopolous standing side by side – the past and present of Springfield College athletics – allowed Dobrow’s words from the opening to ring true: social justice and sports truly are traditions of Springfield College.