“Hand in glove,” Senior Director of Athletics Brian Curtin replies, when asked about the role of athletics in shaping character. As the fifth director for the athletics program at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine–a position he has held since 2006–Curtin has infused the importance of character into the Monks Athletics program for more than a decade. And it shows.
SJC athletics represents excellence by any measure. The tall trophy case in the Alfond Center atrium only hints at the collective scorecard. When Curtin arrived on campus in 2006, Saint Joseph’s hosted 11 sports; the program has grown significantly since then to 21 teams.
After joining the Great Northeastern Athletic Conference (GNAC) in 2007, the Monks have earned 28 GNAC Championships, 29 national tournament appearances, 73 Player/Rookie of the Year awards, 716 Players of the Week, 519 All-Conference awards, 188 All-Region awards, 19 All-America Awards, 188 All-Tournament awards, 36 Coach of the Year awards, 2 GNAC Executive of the Year awards, one NCAA Division III Ethnic Minority and Women’s Internship Grant, and 944 All Academic honors. We could go on.
Saint Joseph’s College Magazine sat down with Curtin to seek his insights into this programmatic success. Curtin brings the sensibilities of athlete, coach, and administrator to the job. After setting cross country records during his undergraduate days at Saint Michael’s College, Curtin went on to coach basketball (Manhattanville College, Dartmouth College, and American University) and hone his philosophy through an M.A. in Education and Human Development from George Washington University.
Generously, Curtin shared his list of essential ingredients in the recipe for programmatic excellence–the Guiding Principles of the Athletics Department at Saint Joseph’s College.
The coaches’ offices–peppered throughout Alfond Center–contain what Curtin calls the Guiding Principles that direct the athletics program. “They’re on everyone’s bulletin board,” he said. “We talk about one or two of the principles at each of our staff meetings.
“These staff meetings have a routine. Two or three times a year we bring together trainers, the Sports Information Director, the coaches, everybody. And we underscore the principles that we want to walk regularly. This creates commonality in the department.”
The least surprising of these principles states simply, “Win.” But several other principles precede this one, including: “Never sacrifice sportsmanship for winning” and “Never sacrifice being a professional for winning.” These point toward the heart of what makes the Monks program distinctive.
Curtin reinforced this point, “We never sacrifice sportsmanship for winning. Of course, we must teach the game. But we are also teaching character, leadership, and teamwork. The winning will come.”
The Right Coaches
Several of the Guiding Principles outline the ideal behavior of Monks athletics staff members. “It starts with the coaches. A successful program must have the right coaches. In this regard, we’re very fortunate. It’s an honor to coach. And they know that.
“The right coach not only loves the sport and loves to teach the game, they know they’re here to graduate leaders and successful citizens. The right coaches understand that part of their responsibility is to shape character. Fortunately, we have those who understand this.”
“We are fortunate to have coaches who collaborate with each other, share ideas, support other teams and programs and who pass on these guiding principles to our new coaches.”
Like the coaches, Curtin hopes that student-athletes will contribute to their post-graduation careers with the same competence, positivism, and community building that they have been bringing onto their field of play.
“This touches upon another two of our guiding principles,” Curtin adds, “We are in the business of education and leadership and we want our student-athletes to be better students, to experience a full college life, and to graduate as better people.”
“One of the ways that we know that what we’re doing is working is because of the feedback that we receive from those who hire our student athletes. They tell us that our students are bringing with them a powerful life-skills toolkit: they are able to take constructive criticism, to work as a team, to remain goal oriented, and to manage their time.”
From early morning to late evening, the Monks teams are practicing or competing around their classes. Athletes must schedule their days carefully. Even when deep snow blankets campus, the lacrosse players race across the plowed turf field, their breaths puffing and rising up toward the bright lights.
This year, the athletics program has taken a step further and launched The Leadership Academy, led by men’s lacrosse coach Bill Cosentino. The Academy describes its goals as instilling leadership skills in student-athletes by “challenging and guiding them to analyze and then develop their own leadership traits” so that they can “create a winning culture wherever they go.” The principles of the Monks Leadership Academy resemble those of the department overall, beginning with “We want to win, and win with character.”
Curtin continues to outline the Guiding Principles. “The athletics program encourages the building of interpersonal relationships, not only within participants of the program, but also between our athletics staff and other employees and students on campus.
“Being a professional entails face-to-face communication. This is especially important when there’s a challenging conversation. For example, if we find that a student is struggling academically, emotionally, or socially, it is important for us to be able to work closely with faculty, the Dean’s Office, or the Counseling Center to develop a solution.”
“We want to fix problems and develop the right solutions through collaboration. A good department collaborates and moves in the same direction. ”
The Monks athletic program has grown over the last decade; Saint Joseph’s College now boasts 21 NCAA varsity sports. This growth has had an impact across campus. Curtin quantifies this growth, “When you add varsity, JV, club, and intramural athletics–without double counting the athletes–we involve hundreds of students or 50% of the campus population. That’s a very high number for a small college.”
“Of course, there are limits to growth. One limit is our student:coach ratio. The other is the physical capacity of our facilities. None of what we have accomplished–such as our recent opening of the lighted track and turf field–could have happened without top-down or administrative support.
“Vice President & Chief Learning Officer Michael Pardales has been particularly supportive. He understands how the athletics program enhances the student experience and campus life, for both the student-athletes and their fans.
“When you go to a playoff game or title game and you see that atmosphere–the cheering, the crowds, the support–that is enhancing the student experience. It’s very special. There is so much excitement, not only at varsity contests but at intramurals and club sports, too.”
Ultimately, Curtin argues that the guiding principles hinge upon the quality of relationships between people.
“There is considerable sadness on Senior Day for all of our athletes. But that sadness is a good sign. It has been a meaningful experience for them.
“Our athletics program encourages graduates to stay connected to their Monks identity even after graduation. There are many alums who attend regular-season games, as well as championships. They also are returning in increasing numbers to our many alumni games.
“We hope this creates continuity for the alumni, that it enhances our overall community, and creates even more memorable experiences for the many alums who return.”
Once a Monk, always a Monk.