Falcon Athletics:<br/>Changing Lives, Not Just the Numbers on the Scoreboard
The celebration of BGSU’s rich athletic legacy customarily begins with the most momentous of accomplishments – the hockey team’s 1984 national championship, distance runner Dave Wottle’s gold medal in the 1972 Summer Olympics, the Falcon men’s basketball team led by Nate Thurmond and Howard Komives defeating second-ranked Loyola, the college division national championship won in the 1959 football season, and the dynasty built in the women’s basketball program.
But the BGSU banner stretches well beyond the championship rings, the wall-to-wall trophies, the All-American honors, and the former Falcons who have gone on to success in the professional sports ranks. For every NFL great and BGSU grad such as Dave Preston and Chris Jones, and every successful pro such as LPGA golfer Claire Bautista, there are hundreds of additional student-athletes who have taken their Bowling Green State University education and accomplishments and built something magical away from the spotlight and the field of play.
Falcon athletics is certainly about competing, the pursuit of excellence and winning championships, but the big picture encompasses so much more. It is the academic accomplishments and broad platform of skills built from competing in collegiate sports that ultimately open doors and reveal opportunities for the overwhelming majority of BGSU student-athletes.They won’t all be professional athletes or gold medal winners, but all of them will have worn the colors, competed on the field of play, and had the opportunity to use their education and student-athlete experience as the foundation for a prosperous and productive life.
“At the end of the day, our most important job is to make sure that our student-athletes have everything they need to be successful, on the field, on the court, and in life,” BGSU Director of Athletics Chris Kingston said. “That is the most critical job we perform. We want them to have a great experience while they are here, and be prepared for everything they will face once they leave.”
“We attract some very high-caliber student-athletes,” Kingston said. “And with the quality coaches and staff we have in place, and our facilities, we expect to see these student-athletes achieve great things both academically and athletically while they are here, and then see them go on and continue to excel in their lives beyond college.”
For some, their names won’t necessarily resonate through the years when Falcon athletics are discussed, but in many cases, their imprint on the world will.
Poised for success
Jeff Allen, Ph.D., ’99
During his career as one of the nation’s leading experts on cancer research, Jeff Allen, Ph.D., ’99 has been summoned to testify before Congress, but that experience was not as intimidating as one might expect. Allen’s BGSU student-athlete experience had effectively prepared him for the glare of the spotlight, and the intensity of the pressure.
After having stood alone at the top of the diving tower while competing for the Falcons, and staring at the surface of the pool 10 meters below while a hushed crowd was frozen in the moment, Allen found the congressional encounter surprisingly similar.
“Going before Congress can be a nervous experience, but I have to say I can clearly remember the nerves as a young student-athlete,” he said. “I think athletics and competition can really prepare you for stressful situations you might encounter later in life.”
Allen was a biology and pre-med major at BGSU, and a captain of the swimming and diving team as a senior. The 1999 graduate was a two-time Academic All-Mid-American Conference honoree, and a recipient of the MAC Commissioner’s Award for academic achievement.
Now the president of a Washington D.C.-based health care advocacy organization, Allen said his student-athlete experience at BGSU was one where the importance of academics never placed second. He and his fellow swimmers and divers knew that they had to have their academic house in order before they thought about jumping in the pool.
“Academics were always encouraged to be priority number one,” Allen said. “Most of the people I trained with over the years were also pretty dedicated students, so it was just part of what we did, but it definitely helped to know that if there was ever some sort of academic conflict, the coaches were flexible and made things work.”
Allen heads Friends of Cancer Research and has been its executive director for nine years. The Bowling Green native and cum laude graduate of the University later received his Ph.D in cell and molecular biology from Georgetown, and also worked as an endocrinology fellow at the National Institutes of Health.
The Friends organization focuses on accelerating the development of new cancer drugs through federal policy, working with government agencies, academic researchers, industry partners, and Congress. Allen said his interest in the field of cancer research was ignited by a cell biology class he took during his senior year at BGSU.
“I remember it very vividly, because that’s when it all clicked for me,” he said. “I saw that the cellular intricacies that were responsible for driving the growth of cancer could actually be potentially turned on and off, which is really the basis for cancer drug development.”
Allen said that what he learned as a BGSU student-athlete about time management, prioritization and preparation has served him well as a scientist, whether he is giving testimony or working on policy with multiple entities.
“In a remarkable way, you learn very early as an athlete that it is all of the preparation that leads to a championship, and an appearance in a very public venue in your career is not all that dissimilar an experience. The more you prepare, the better you are going to do,” he said.
“I’m fortunate that I find myself in a role now that allows for a similar kind of commitment to what I had as an athlete competing in a sport that I loved.”
Healing those who serve our country
Major Ryan Diepenbrock, D.D.S., ’01
The United States Air Force has just one facial cosmetic surgeon currently serving in its ranks, and he was once a member of the Falcon football program. For four seasons, Major Ryan Diepenbrock, D.D.S., ’01 was BGSU’s long-snapper – a position where your name is never mentioned unless you make a major mistake, and Diepenbrock never faltered.
Diepenbrock was a three-time member of the Mid-American Conference’s All-Academic Team who carried a 3.42 GPA as a pre-med/pre-dentistry major. He was named to the Gold Key National Honor Society, and twice named to “The National Dean’s List”, to which only one-half of one percent of university-level students qualifies.
“My expectations when I came to BGSU were initially to be able to use football to help me gain an education,” Diepenbrock said. “As a long-snapper, I was given a talent not many people had, and it helped me earn a scholarship. It was up to me to make something out of that opportunity, but I had a lot of help.
Diepenbrock, whose parents are both BGSU graduates, was able to achieve a balance between the time commitment that football required, and the demands of his rigorous academic load, with that aforementioned “help.”
“As a biology major, some days it was very hard to meet all of my obligations and get everything done, but one of the things I really liked about BGSU was that the importance of my education was never questioned – our coaches emphasized it,” Diepenbrock said.
Diepenbrock earned a National Football Foundation post-graduate scholarship, and after a brief stint in pro football, he went on to receive his dentistry degree from Ohio State. After eight years of advanced training with the Air Force in oral and maxillofacial surgery and facial cosmetic surgery, he now lectures across the country on those subjects.
“I owe a lot of credit to the people at Bowling Green who taught me, coached me, and helped me get started, and then stay on the right track,” he said. “When you are taking 20 hours of class during football season, you learn how to be organized, stay focused and multi-task. Playing college football is the epitome of time management lessons, and I think that experience helped me get through dental school and into my specialty.”
Since he is stationed on the west coast, Diepenbrock has not performed cosmetic surgery on many of the wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, but he does spend a lot of time training other surgeons who will likely fill that role.
“The reason we do cosmetic surgery is to teach soft tissue management, and soft tissue handling in facial cosmetic surgery directly correlates with soft tissue management in a trauma setting. Many of the surgical principles are the same,” he said. “What I teach the residents . . . can be transitioned into the wartime setting to better manage and care for our airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines.”
Diepenbrock said the breadth of his BGSU experience – melding together his course load, study time, lab work and his football commitment – has made him a better surgeon.
“When I was on call as a resident, and it was two in the morning and there were sick patients in the trauma bay, it would feel like the world was crashing on your shoulders,” he said. “But for me it was similar to two-a-day practices in football, so it was time to dig deep and just push through it.”
Learning to compete for life
Head women’s swimming and diving coach Petra Martin has built a championship-caliber program in her five seasons at BGSU, and watched the development of her student-athletes take place well beyond the outline of the pool.
“They really learn how to handle their time, how to be task-driven, how to prioritize, and how to complete tasks,” Martin said. “They have to juggle school, their studies, community service, training, as well as all other facets of college life. They are picking up very valuable tools that will serve them well when they go out into the real world.”
Martin believes one of the best ways to prepare student-athletes for the demands of competition, and for the challenges that will lie beyond their college days, is to continually seek to enhance their confidence level.
“I think our student-athletes understand that it takes dedication, hard work and perseverance to be successful in their sport,” she said. “I also like to put them in situations where they have to make decisions on their own, and through these situations and exercises gain confidence in being able to make good choices by themselves.”
Martin continually nurtures the competitive spirit in her student-athletes, which is another tool she has seen BGSU swimmers and divers carry well beyond their college days.
“It is great to win, and we all want to be in first place, but seeing those athletes being able to take care of themselves and have good direction in their lives and being able to contribute to society when they leave here, that is huge,” she said.
Carmen Young seems ready to follow that course. The senior from Virginia was an Academic All-MAC choice last season after winning the breaststroke in two dual meets, and competing in three events at the conference championships.
Young said her involvement on the swimming team helped her budget her time, organize and strategize, and learn the importance of building a network. She now serves as president of Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, meets regularly with University President Dr. Mary Ellen Mazey and Director of Athletics Chris Kingston, and is comfortable speaking to groups.
“I’m very different now,” the dietetics major said. “I have a leadership role, not just on the swim and dive team but on campus as well.”
Honor the past, create the future
supporting bgsu student-athletes
Sid Sink ’72 is one of BGSU’s most decorated athletes, a 10-time All-American in track and cross country, and a two-time NCAA champion, and he also served as a coach for track and cross country, and then later as an administrator in the athletic department.
“I have always believed that the student-athlete experience is a huge part of college life, and that Bowling Green has done a great job with it,” Sink said. “It’s not always about athletics – you also learn how to interact with other people, and how to manage your time, because even with practice and travel and all, your educational obligations didn’t change.”
Sink said that during the “Falcon Athletics Legacy Weekend” in October 2014 he met with a number of former BGSU athletes who have gone on to very productive lives after college.
“There are a tremendous number of good, productive and highly motivated people that have come out of the athletic programs at BGSU, and a lot of what they are today is the product of what they learned while they were athletes here.”
Jane Myers, assistant director of athletics for development, got a firsthand look that weekend at the real product of BGSU athletics – lives changed, not just the numbers on the scoreboard.
“When our former athletes come back, you see that so many of them are very successful in leadership or management positions in their careers. I think this is a direct result of the lessons learned as BGSU student-athletes perseverance, commitment, preparation, dedication, loyalty and hard work. These qualities lead to success in collegiate athletics and in life.”
For Director of Athletics Chris Kingston, helping to sculpt BGSU’s student-athletes into the leaders of tomorrow is a critical part of the role the University.
“Our mantra is to honor the past, create the future and make history now, and we really believe in that,” he said. “That’s a reminder of the greatness that has come before us, and the greatness we can achieve that is ahead of us.”
The move forward is being sustained on multiple fronts. The “Bring Back the Glory” campaign has brought significant renovations to the BGSU Ice Arena, and created a synergy that will only grow after the hockey team’s incredible 2014-15 winning season. The addition of the Sebo Center, FieldTurf, permanent lights and a state-of-the-art video scoreboard have elevated the game-day experience at Doyt Perry Stadium as will a new $4 million investment from the University to provide vital infrastructure improvements to the facility. Private support will also be essential to realize the full potential of a modern renovation that builds on the football team’s recent successes including its first bowl game victory in a decade with a defeat over South Alabama in the inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
But in the near future, nowhere on campus is the enrichment of the athletic experience likely to be more evident on the bricks-and-mortar level than at the baseball complex, where a major makeover will take shape. The “Knock it out of the Park” campaign promises to be nothing less than a grand slam.
Last season, the Bowling Green baseball team played its first 27 games away from home field, since wet grounds often made the natural grass at Steller Field unplayable. The Falcons were also forced to move their “home-opener” against Northern Illinois 175 miles away, to a ballpark in Indianapolis, since that facility had artificial turf.
Weather has not been a good friend to Falcon baseball, but that issue should be quickly neutralized under the first phase of the “Knock it out of the Park” effort, which is expected to include the installation of artificial turf, the state-of-the-art artificial surface that covers the playing field at Doyt Perry Stadium. The move would allow the Falcons to play, despite adverse conditions, and begin a transition of monumental proportion for the program.
The notion of providing financial support to the baseball program and upgrading its home got a great start before the current campaign began, thanks to the generosity of Hall of Fame baseball player Gary Haas ‘74, whose recent $1 million gift, with his wife Debbie, is the largest ever by a former student-athlete.
“I’m hoping this gift sets a standard for future student-athletes to give back,” said Haas, who was part of Bowling Green’s 1972 Mid-American Conference Championship and NCAA Regional team. “I wanted to give this gift to help the baseball program, but I want all student-athletes to remember their time at BGSU and give back once they are successful in their careers.”
Kingston sees the planned improvements at the baseball complex, along with other facility upgrades, as part of addressing three essential priorities for athletics – scholarships, facilities and endowed coaching positions.
The “Knock it out of the Park” initiative will transform Falcon baseball.
“We have some real jewels in the Sebo Athletic Center and the Stroh Center,” Kingston said. “We need to continually improve our spaces to stay competitive in recruiting and retaining the best student-athletes and giving them the best experience. It will be important to raise private dollars to keep moving forward.”
Women’s basketball player Jasmine Matthews made it clear that for the student-athletes, those jewels – the facilities – do matter.
“That’s one of the first things you see when you get off the exit – the Stroh Center with all of that glass and its unique look. It really stands out, and once you see it you know it is something very special and a fun place to play,” Matthews said. “As a player, that is your second home, so where you play and the quality of the facility is very important.”
Kingston said he views facilities as part of the three essential elements that must be in place for BGSU student-athletes to achieve success in the classroom and on the field of competition. It’s about people, resources and opportunities, in Kingston’s vision for the Falcons.
“Our most important job is to make sure that our student-athletes have everything they need to compete for championships and compete at the highest level,” Kingston said. “We need to do everything we can to provide a full complement of scholarships for all of our teams, and the best coaches and facilities possible.”
That winning formula will keep changing lives for Falcons on the court, the field, the pool, and beyond.