CULTURE – Sports Standouts
University of Oregon
Other Pac-10 schools may have more conference and national titles to their name, but few institutions in the country can claim the kind of financial support for sports that the University of Oregon can. For one thing, as any Oregonian knows, Nike founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman forged their partnership here—and, eventually, their patented waffle-sole shoes—when Knight ran track for coach Bowerman in the 1950s. Knight developed a soft spot for his alma mater: He’s donated more than $125 million to the school, including a $100 million gift in 2007 to support its athletic programs. Gifts like these helped bring college baseball back on campus after a 26-year hiatus and have also helped more student athletes afford school: The average athletic scholarship at Oregon is $19,276, the highest of any public university in the Northwest. Oh, and the Ducks also have a $200 million arena in the works. But lest one think a zeal for athletics precludes a passion for academics, consider that athletic director Pat Kilkenny and his wife, Stephanie, donated $1 million to the university’s academic programs this year. The money will be used for, among other things, library improvements, scholarships for low-income students, and the founding of the Competition Not Conflict program, which seeks to use sports as a way to resolve conflicts. Moreover, in his first year, Kilkenny donated his entire $500,000 salary to the school—half went to the athletic department and half went to academics, making both winners.
High school athletes may dream of becoming the next Joey Harrington, but fewer than 5 percent of them will earn college sports scholarships. But students’ love of the game doesn’t have to end with high school graduation—at least, not at a school like Linfield. While the NCAA Division III school, tucked away in bucolic McMinnville, doesn’t offer students scholarships to play, its athletic department remains highly competitive. Not only is 1998 World Series MVP (and Linfield alum) Scott Brosius now the head baseball coach, but in the past 40 years Linfield teams have won seven national championships in football, baseball, and softball. The football team has had more consecutive winning seasons (53) than any other in the country at any level. Some professors even integrate sports into their research: In 2005, health professor and head track coach Garry Killgore invented the AQx, a water exercise shoe that injured athletes can wear in the pool for a low-impact workout. Rumor has it that the PGA’s coolest cat—the one currently nursing a knee injury—has even ordered a pair.
“Boards,” “jumper,” and “March Madness” are as much a part of the discourse at this Spokane school as “homework,” “midterm,” and “lecture.” And no wonder: Gonzaga’s is one of only six teams in the United States to have made 10 consecutive appearances at the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships. The five other schools each have more than 10,000 students, but Gonzaga’s enrollment hit just 4,386 last year—and you bet all of them know where to find the gym, affectionately called “The Kennel” (the school mascot is a bulldog). In fact, more than 3,000 students a year join the Kennel Club, a group of supporters who have appeared in ESPN highlight reels and who believe their brand of school spirit (matching red shirts and chanting from seats that are as close to the court as NCAA rules allow) helped Gonzaga earn the third-longest at-home winning streak in college basketball history.