SF State president Leslie E. Wong advocates for stronger focus on student athletics

SF State

University President Leslie E. Wong, left, and wife, Phyllis, attend a women's volleyball match in support of the Gators. Wong has pledged to make appearances at sporting events throughout the year and make athletics more of a University priority. Photo by Michael Getman/ Special to Xpress

Former University President Robert A. Corrigan was rarely seen at any Gator practices. He barely attended any games.

This president will.

Among many other things on his agenda, SF State’s new president, Leslie E. Wong is dedicated to renewing the University’s focus on the sports program.

“We want to provide athletics a new sense of support and encouragement,” Wong said. “I have high expectations. I think it can be very, very successful and I think it will complement the very successful academic programs that we have.”

According to head baseball coach Mike Cummins, Wong’s announcement generated a positive reaction from the coaches and staff.

“I think by him just mentioning that athletics is the gateway for the University is a positive step in the right direction, no doubt,” Cummins said.

In the past, SF State’s sports received little attention compared to other departments, according to head wrestling coach Lars Jensen, who has been coaching at SF State for 33 years. He said sports was “like another department” within the University.

“I mean, there was not an emphasis put up on sports,” Jensen said. “The number one thing here is academics, of course.”

However, Jensen said he is excited that Wong plans on supporting the program.

“He’s been at University of Northern Michigan and some other places (like) Southern Colorado and places where the administration puts a greater emphasis towards athletics,” Jensen said.

One of the things Wong sees as potential for sports teams is an athlete’s ability to be role models on campus.

Because student athletes are some of the most “highly visible” members of the student population, Wong said they can represent a new image for SF State. With more media attention, sports teams can help bolster the University’s reputation outside of the campus community.

Ultimately, Wong said this kind of increased media attention will attract individuals to donate money to the program.

“When sports teams are successful, it generates some electricity on a campus and it generates electricity among alums,” Wong said. “One of the byproducts of that excitement (is) donations.”

According to Wong, these donations will most likely come from generous alumni. He knew of one student alumnus who became a successful businessman after graduation. Not only did that alumnus donate to the sports team he played with, but Wong said that his largest contribution went toward the institution he graduated from.

SF State athletic director, Michael Simpson, said the sports program needs more money to support its students. He said the main source of money comes from athletic fees paid by the 225 to 240 athletes in the program. Besides that, Simpson said they raise money from fundraisers put on by the coaches and staff.

“We love our students because they’re helping to support athletics on this campus,” Jensen said.

Jensen said he knows “changes don’t come overnight at San Francisco State,” but he is looking forward to them.

Wong, who has a background as a baseball player and tennis coach according to Cummins, plans to focus on not only sports, but other departments on campus as well.

“You don’t want to get obsessive about building up the sports programs, but you want them to get the same kind of attention and treatment that we do across the institution,” he said.

In order to demonstrate his support, Wong said he plans on attending as many home games as possible with his wife, as well as a few practices. He also plans on traveling with teams to attend some away games.

“I think it’s important to be a good role model,” Wong said. “I’ll be at sports events to the same degree that I’ll be at theater (events) and that I’ll be at other venues where students are demonstrating their passions and interests.”

Tyler Deniston, a senior cross country athlete and president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said he can tell that Wong is supportive on all ends.

“I get the feeling that he’s here for not just athletics; he’s here to improve the entire University and that’s what I like about him,” Deniston said.

The 21-year-old physiology major said he met Wong at a welcome dinner for the athletes that coincided with the women’s volleyball home opener Sept. 4 and thought he was “extremely nice and the fact that he met with us was awesome.”

Cummins said he believes this kind of personal support from Wong is important to the athletes.

“I think (the student athletes) are excited about that, that someone is taking interest at that level in what they’re doing,” he said.

Although both Jensen and Cummins said they feel no new pressure as coaches with this new focus on sports, Deniston said he feels athletes should still perform to meet some expectations.

“I mean, you definitely want to perform if someone’s helping you out,” he said. “If you’re gonna have a mediocre showing, I’m sure that people ahead of you are less likely to support you.”

Wong said that one of the things he asked coaches to keep in mind is to keep the quality of competition high.

“You don’t have to be winning for it to be a first-rate experience,” he said. “It’s good training, good practice, good support, a respect for their academic lives and to be competitive on the field.”

Deniston said things will just get better from here.

“Athletics on a whole is on the rise and this is just gonna add to that momentum,” he said.

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