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Leveling the playing field: student-athletes honored at fourth annual sports and social justice symposium

By Evan Wheaton
Staff Writer

Last Friday, Springfield College hosted it’s fourth annual Sports and Social Justice Symposium in the Cleveland E. and Phyllis B. Dodge Room in the Flynn Campus Union. Two student-athletes were honored with the annual “Tom Waddell Leveling the Playing Field Award” for their tremendous involvement in humanics.

Before announcing the recipients of the award, professor Martin Dobrow introduced keynote speaker professor Mimi Murray. Jazz music filled the air as various pictures of Murray over the years were presented in a slide show.

Murray, who’s set to retire after being the longest tenured faculty member at Springfield College over the past 58 years, amassed an impressive coaching career for the women’s gymnastics team in just six years. As a head coach, she’s undefeated in dual meets, has three D-III National Championship titles, and has won five Eastern Championships.

As an instrumental member of the sport and exercise psychology program, she remains a fierce advocate for gender equality and social justice. Murray graduated from Springfield College in 1961 and personally knew Tom Waddell after dating him for a period of time. They were both drawn to each other over a shared passion for fairness and equality.

“He just embodied what we think of as humanics, totally and completely,” Murray said.

Waddell graduated from Springfield College in 1959 and was a three-sport extreme athlete who also became a gay rights activist and founded the Gay Games in 1982. On Feb. 26, 1958, his close friend, Don Marshman, died while performing the flying rings event. After being deemed too dangerous, the event has since been discontinued, but the ordeal changed Waddell’s life forever.

“Tom (Waddell) said, ‘this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to dedicate my life to helping others,’” Murray said. “He had such respect for (Don) Marshman.”

Murray cycled through various images of Waddell on the projector, ranging from his younger years, to his time at Springfield College, as well as his time as an Olympian.

In an effort to carry out his legacy, Waddell joined the army after graduating from Springfield College. Despite his enlistment, he would never see the battlefield, as he focused solely on healing wounded soldiers.

“Tom (Waddell) joined the army, but he was a pacifist and refused to kill anyone,” Murray said. “He was allowed to practice medicine while in the army, and he was taking care of all those people who had been hurt in the battles of his time.”

Following a Q&A between Murray and Dobrow, the recipients of the 2019 “Tom Waddell Leveling the Playing Field Award” were announced. Emmalie Drake and Jannik Hass, both seniors that are heavily involved in Team IMPACT, were the winners.

“Being a student-athlete here at Springfield College is much more than your contribution on the field,” Drake said. “It’s about the relationships, the connections, and the influences you have on those around you.”

Drake is a physician assistant major and is a member of the field hockey team. Her decision to attend Springfield College was heavily influenced by the institution’s focus on humanics, rather than academic and athletic excellence.

“She has been a tremendous leader for our team on and off the field,” Springfield field hockey head coach Melissa Sharpe said in a written statement. “She has embraced her role as a Team IMPACT fellow, which has helped strengthen our relationship with Abigail (Hamberg).

She has truly taken advantage of the many incredible opportunities that Springfield College provides [to] our student-athletes and in doing so, has transformed into a dependable leader, role model, and wonderful ambassador for Springfield College. She has a big heart and is always looking for ways to help other people.”

Haas joined Drake at the podium to deliver his speech.

“I’m incredibly honored to be receiving this award and to be sharing it with Emmalie (Drake),” Hass said. “Meeting some of the previous award members and Doctor Murray today was truly inspiring, and I hope to continue in her footsteps to level the playing field even further.”

Haas is a mathematics major and a member of the men’s gymnastics team. He’s worked hard to help teach children with special needs gymnastics.

“He’s an exceptional student-athlete and has a 3.96 GPA. He’s a tutor on campus, a S.A.L.T. executive board member, one of the leaders for men’s gymnastics humanics efforts, and is an integral part of the men’s gymnastics involvement with our Team IMPACT player,” Springfield men’s gymnastics Head Coach Steve Posner said. “In the gym, he is a true leader for our team.

During the two years I’ve had the privilege of coaching him, he has demonstrated the unique ability to go beyond what is merely required of himself, in order to make himself and those around him exceed expectations. He not only rises to the challenges that confront him, but also does so with enthusiasm, a sense of responsibility, and unwillingness to be satisfied with anything less than the best from himself,” Posner added.

As the symposium concluded, Drake and Hass had their pictures taken with Springfield College president Mary-Beth Cooper. Drake and Hass, like countless other students, will continue to carry out the institution’s philosophy of humanics through their efforts to help level the playing field for all.

Photo courtesy Springfield College flickr

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