By Garrett Cote
As Colby Wilson strolled through the Indianapolis, Indiana JW Marriott’s doors and into the hotel lobby, he was met with a wide array of colors as people from different institutions, proudly representing their colleges, migrated to the ‘Crossroads of America’ on Jan. 19 for the NCAA Student Immersion Program.
“It was awesome to have my own hotel room, it was probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever seen,” Wilson said. “Right when I walked in I saw a ton of athletic directors and administrators from D-I, D-II and D-III. It was cool to see all the different college gear too when I walked in.”
The Springfield College junior and Tewksbury, Mass. native had never seen a setup like the one in the Marriott’s ballroom and convention center, as the entire inside was reconstructed to host a convention for 40 student-athletes from ethnic or minority backgrounds who have interest in working in college athletics in their future.
“There were banners just everywhere,” Wilson said. “There was a tunnel from the hotel to the convention center, which is where all the awards stuff was. Another tunnel led to the ballrooms, which is where we had our business meetings and meals. It was basically like six huge buildings connected, and the hotel itself was something around 24 floors. The place was huge. I had never seen anything like that.”
The three-and-a-half day trip was jam-packed with events and meetings — causing Wilson to get up at 6:00 a.m. each morning. A motivational speaker kickstarted the days to keep everyone up and fill them with good spirit bright-and-early.
That Friday, Jan. 21, Wilson and Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper accepted an award recognizing Springfield as the NCAA DIII LGBTQ Atheltics Department of the Year for its efforts in creating a safe and inclusive environment.
Jan. 20 and 22 President Cooper, who is a member of the NCAA DIII President’s Council, was tasked with advocating for Division III schools who have a Division I sport but aren’t allowed to give out full-ride athletic scholarships. After nailing her speech on both days, she returned to her seat and was awarded with a fist-bump from Wilson – knowing the rule would change to allow those schools the ability to offer athletic scholarships, thanks to her persuasive speeches.
“When she got back and sat down I gave her a fist-bump after,” Wilson recalled. “She knew she killed it. She was like, ‘We got it, we’re good to go,’ and then we got up and left and went to the airport.”
Just having a large group of people who identify as the same race and share a common goal of one day working in athletics was something Wilson was appreciative of, especially considering he ended up building lifelong connections with lots of them.
“To see 40 like-minded people there – people who look like me and people who also want to work in sports – was pretty dope. It’s people I will stay in touch with, it was just good connections to make,” Wilson said.
“The most important thing now is just following up with the administrators I met. I met athletic directors from universities near my hometown, so I just need to stay connected with them and be sure to follow up after that weekend ends.”
Because the world has spent so much time adapting to COVID-19 by sending the majority of its events online, finally being able to go out and build a network for himself and get a strong sense of what the ‘real-world’ brings was thrilling for Wilson.
“Definitely a good experience to have,” he said. “Travelling on my own, spending time with (President Cooper) and just learning how to network on my own – face-to-face and in person – was really nice since we’ve been online for so long.”
With the Coronavirus granting student-athletes an extra year of eligibility, Wilson may decide to go to a two-year graduate school program at a Division I institution following graduation in May 2023 – with the goal of using the first year to compete in track while pursuing coaching in that second year. Another option would be to stay right on Alden Street and work in the athletic department, or as a graduate assistant coach for the track and field team. The connections from the Student Immersion Program will likely come into play with whatever option he may choose.
“I have some options, that’s for sure. We’ll just have to see how the next couple of months go,” Wilson said. “I’m glad I now have these connections to help me in the future.”
Regardless of his choice, Colby Wilson’s impact will be felt wherever he goes – just as it has for his two years and counting here at Springfield College.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Skaggs/NCAA Student Immersion Program