Athletics at small colleges are important for a variety of reasons. At their core, and when taken in their proper context, collegiate sports can be a source of school pride and enhanced campus experiences. However, as the competition for students has become more intense, one of the most popular arguments for intercollegiate athletics is that they can be used to augment campus diversity and recruitment efforts. The thinking goes that by adding certain sports, a school can bolster enrollment by attracting both athletics-minded students and ethnic minorities to campus more easily than through any other initiatives.
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with such a rationale or motivation. Nevertheless, if not properly planned and executed a school can find itself betraying its mission and values simply for the sake of meeting enrollment targets. There is a fine line between noble and well-intentioned compromises and those that would negatively infect one’s institutional culture.
I raise this issue because of what is occurring on the campus of Paul Quinn College. Our enrollment has jumped 55% in the last year and 200% since the spring of 2010. Additionally, the College has its largest Hispanic enrollment in history with 19% of the school’s student body qualifying under this designation. Such growth has coincided with the addition of men and women’s soccer teams and renewed interest in basketball and track. A jaded soul might look at these numbers and declare that we made some type of Faustian bargain in order to grow our campus. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
At Paul Quinn, our athletics programs are an extension of student activities and in complete alignment with our institutional culture. We discontinued football, the Athletic Director is our Dean of Students, every varsity athlete is required to play two sports, and no one receives full athletic scholarships. Instead of adding sports to grow the enrollment, we have done the exact opposite. Sports were added when the College could afford them or when our students requested them.
We have adopted Babson College’s mantra of “entrepreneurial thought and entrepreneurial action.” This extends to how we approach student life, including athletics. Our students are told from the first day of new student orientation that if they would like to pursue an idea or activity, they should submit a proposal to either the Dean of Students or myself. The proposal typically includes their rationale for the activity and an initial attempt at a budget. Each submission is evaluated on its quality and soundness. If the idea is consistent with our culture, the activity is approved and a staff member is assigned to coach the student through the implementation process.
It is as a result of this process that Paul Quinn came to have a varsity soccer program. Four years ago, we received a proposal from a student named Gio Macias. Gio had been a high school soccer star and wanted to continue competing at the collegiate level. Following the directive that all our students have been told, Gio submitted a proposal outlining his vision for a soccer team. In addition to being a soccer lover and entrepreneurial, Gio was also an undocumented citizen who was going to struggle to meet his financial obligations to the College as the years progressed. Instead of allowing this to occur or feigning the inability to do anything about it, we took a different path. We approved the proposal, gave Gio an institutional scholarship to serve as the inaugural head coach, and began our path to build nationally competitive men and women’s soccer programs.
Gio graduated last spring and we have hired a new coach, Jesus Vazquez. Coach Vazquez has built upon the foundation that Gio laid. For the first time in school history, Paul Quinn is fielding full rosters for both teams. While we are thrilled with the on-field progress that the teams are making, we are even happier about the way our soccer players have immersed themselves in all things Quinnite Nation and become integral parts of the Paul Quinn community.
The students at Paul Quinn College will continue to be pushed to think and act entrepreneurially and to develop their own activities. By remaining committed to this formula, the institution is assured that it will not become driven by goals that are inconsistent with the best interests of its students and culture. Such a methodology also ensures that we will always leave room for the Gio Macias’s of the world. And at the end of the day, we think that is not such a bad thing.
Michael J. Sorrell is the 34th President of Paul Quinn College.
How it all Started
It was in the spring of 2012 that the heartbeat of Paul Quinn College soccer first gained its pulse. That semester, a few of my friends and I decided that we would take President Sorrell up on the offer to support student-created initiatives. Each of us was passionate about the game of soccer and had an interest in playing at the college level.
We began by signing up for a five-on-five indoor league as the “PQC Tigers.” We trained ourselves and would often invite other students and Paul Quinn staff to come see us play every Friday night. As the season progressed people were getting more interested in PQC soccer and we would draw crowds of 15 to 20 people during our games (sometimes including President Sorrell and his family). Although we did not win much that season, we achieved something greater then winning a title: we started a revolution. A student-led organization was striving to become an official sport recognized by the College.
Fall 2012 was a big jump for PQC soccer; it grew from just 6 players to 15. That semester we signed up for an actual 11 vs. 11 league. We also fundraised for our uniforms, registration, and transportation. Through resilience, commitment, and hard work, a foundation for PQC soccer was established. The support showed by staff, faculty, family, and friends made me feel happy and grateful.
The College announced, via a press conference, that soccer would be an official club sport in Fall 2013. Over the summer of 2013, I was named the head coach. From there I worked hard to build the program and for it to have a positive impact on the College.
Two years have passed since that time and PQC soccer continues to grow stronger each day. I am just happy to now see student-athletes coming to Paul Quinn to play a sport that we all love. To me, that will always be my biggest reward.
Giovanni Macias is a Team Leader in the Management Training Program at Target and a graduate from Paul Quinn College.
PQC Soccer: My Return
My name is Juan Solis and my journey as a Paul Quinn Tiger began as my senior year in high school was coming to an end. Giovanni Macias approached me to offer the possibility of prolonging my soccer career at Paul Quinn College.
Gio explained to me in detail the vision, plans, and goals he had in mind to establish a strong soccer program that would mark a new era for Paul Quinn. I was intrigued by his will and grit to begin something that would change the lives of not only himself but also everybody in the entire Quinnite Nation.
Gio and I quickly began my registration so that I could be a part of the Summer Bridge program PQC offers. Our college president, Dr. Michael J. Sorrell, helped make this possible. That summer was when we began recruiting and making preparations for the upcoming fall season.
The season came along in the fall and we did not have a full soccer roster, but we worked with what we had. We never backed down from a challenge and even though times were tough we managed to fight through it and finish the season. The season did not go as we had planned and many players decided to not continue. In addition, I was offered to play for another school.
I was all set to go on and play in Ohio; however, Gio reached out to me once again and put in me in contact with the new coaches Jesus Vazquez and Michael Delgado. They informed me of the changes being made in the program and I liked what they were doing and where they were headed. I was updated while I was away and I quickly made arrangements to come back to Paul Quinn and finish what we started. My biggest desire is to contribute in any and all ways that I possibly can to the program that opened the doors for me and granted me a chance when no one else would.
Juan Solis is a student at Paul Quinn College.