|While coaching a nationally ranked lacrosse team, Webster also leads recruitment for the athletics department and serves as alumni liaison.
Coaching is not just about leading a team to victory. It’s about urging on scholastic success. Witness the academic prowess of cross country: the men and women were named NCAA Division III Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic Teams again this year. And there’s more.
“The majority of coaches teach physical-education classes and have other responsibilities,” says Les Poolman, director of athletics. “For example, Kasey Ryan [lacrosse] is assistant sports information director, Joel Quattrone [football’s defensive coordinator] is associate athletics director and teaches, Don Nichter [cross country] heads up intramurals, and Dave Webster ’88 [lacrosse] is admissions and alumni liaison.”
Webster, who leads recruitment efforts for the athletics department, works closely with admissions to bring in students with the right fit for Dickinson. In early May he meets with all 23 varsity coaches and establishes recruitment goals. Goals differ, depending on the number of players needed to field a team and positions open. For tennis, the goal may be three or four players, whereas for football it may be 40.
“I get the number for the whole department and then give it to Seth Allen [dean of admissions],” Webster explains. This year 689 aspiring varsity athletes applied, and 438 were accepted. Webster’s goal was to yield 150; 170 wound up matriculating. “That’s nearly a quarter of our [first-year] enrollment,” he points out.
“The coaches recognize the need to work year ’round on recruitment,” says Webster. “I like to say that 75 percent of their time is spent on recruitment and 25 percent actually coaching. You cannot be successful on the field or court unless you are successful in recruiting.”
Dina Henry, whose women’s basketball team made the NCAA playoffs last year for the first time, agrees that recruitment efforts are time-consuming but critical. In February she enters high-school juniors into her database.
“I start with 150 to 200 names,” she explains. “Some I’ve seen play, while others have been recommended by a coach. I develop a hot list of those who are qualified to get in and can make a contribution to our program. I start the year with 60 to 80 on my hot list. I hope to recruit three to four.
“Right now, in April, I’ve identified junior recruits already, and the seniors are making their choices,” she continues. “This summer I will drive to Connecticut or Virginia to see players at an exposure event, tournament or camp. If it’s a top recruit, I’m going to travel. This is a good era for women’s basketball, so there are many more opportunities to get exposure.”
Developing teams that are competitive, like Henry’s, helps to attract the discriminating prospective student. “According to an NCAA survey, it is a significant factor in a student-athlete’s choice, everything else being equal,” Webster says.
Dickinson’s success in the last few years at admitting academically high-achieving students has caused recruitment challenges for some sports, though. Football’s traditional cradle of players, the coal region of Pennsylvania, is less viable. Coach Darwin Breaux plans recruiting trips to Texas and Florida, areas also of interest to the admissions office.
Admissions open houses for athletes, which began five years ago, have been popular, says Webster. The impression that a coach and team make on a prospective athlete during a visit has a great impact.
“The other selling point is facilities,” Webster notes. “We’ve done some nice upgrades to our fields, but we need to continue doing that. It’s a very competitive environment, and it’s all about having all of those pieces in place.”
While some schools are designating a person to serve as a liaison between athletics and admissions, few employ someone to connect athletics and alumni. Webster coordinates on- and off-campus events for former athletes with Rick Delgiorno, director of alumni programs. Alumni athletes increasingly are invited to away games, such as lacrosse in Baltimore, or to return to Carlisle for an alumni-vs.-current-athletes game. Keeping connections alive also helps admissions, with former athletes like John Devlin ’90, volunteering to contact prospective players.
“This is why we need to make the athletes’ four years here special, to provide them the resources and support that they need,” says Webster. “The better we do at recruitment, the better our teams are, the better the students’ experiences and the resulting feeling as alumni,” he says. “At Dickinson we have the big picture in place.”