Kevin McHugh presented an uncomplicated persona during his campus visit as a finalist for the position of director of athletics. “I don’t have PowerPoint. I don’t have handouts. What you see is what you get,” he said during a public presentation in Skelton Lounge.
As director of athletics at The College of New Jersey since 1987, McHugh used his transparent style to strengthen the role of athletics within the liberal arts environment. “An athletics program should be more than about being good at sports,” he said. “It must focus on the development of student-athletes as people. They are our stakeholders.”
A 1978 graduate of Columbia, McHugh was an All-Ivy wrestler. “I’m forceful if need be,” he said of his approach. “But I also lead by example, by working harder than the other person, and by being genuine and candid.”
At Bates, he’ll oversee 30 varsity sports and 12 club sports that involve more than 60 percent of Bates’ approximately 1,700 students. He succeeds Suzanne Coffey, who is now AD at Amherst.
McHugh spoke with Sports Information Director Andy Walter in April.
How does a born-and-bred Jersey guy pick up and move to Maine at age 50?
Maybe I’m a closet New Englander. Ten years ago I hiked Katahdin, and I’ll never forget the mystical feel of climbing through the clouds. I like the idea of living in a state known for its outdoor lifestyle. My snowshoes and cross- country skis have been in my closet too long.
You were also executive director for student development and campus programs at The College of New Jersey. What did you learn by being involved broadly in student activities?
That athletes aren’t the only ones really passionate about their interests outside the classroom. Students involved in clubs and other activities on a college campus are just as devoted to what they’re doing. If you understand that passion is the common denominator for students and their activities, you can create opportunities for disparate student groups to come together.
What is the role of athletics in the liberal arts?
The Bates Catalog says that an education in the liberal arts “prepares men and women for lives satisfying to themselves and useful to others.” Does athletics help in that mission? Absolutely. It teaches character and about winning and losing. When you talk to alumni who are successful in an occupation or endeavor, they’ll often credit their athletics experience for the role they’re playing now.
Athletics also offer a balance in life, complementing the academic rigor of a place like Bates. You need to offset work with play, whether it’s varsity, intramural, or club sports. Athletics offers a social dimension to the campus, it’s a source of institutional pride, and it brings diversity — as broadly defined as possible — to campus.
How has life for the student-athlete changed since you were an All-Ivy wrestler at Columbia in the late 1970s?
Life is so much more complex for all students. People today look back at simpler times the way people in the ’60s and ’70s described the ’50s. I’m oversimplifying, but I went to class and I had my sport. No Internet, no instant flow of information and the challenge of how to sort and use it. Today, the “noise on the set” competes for your attention.
You run marathons. Can you compare wrestling and running?
I enjoy marathons for the freedom, relief from stress, the ability to get inside yourself. It’s almost spiritual. The similarity between the two is the individual physical challenge. When you’re on the mat, it’s just you versus the person you’re wrestling. When you’re running, it’s just you pacing yourself. Both require mental and physical discipline.
I just did a marathon in Virginia Beach, my 12th and probably my last, because my performance was disappointing to me. I was doing fine for about 20 miles, and then the wheels fell off. Maybe I’ll get the urge to run again because I’ll always need a physical challenge of some kind. It may just shift now that I don’t have the marathon bug so much.
What did you learn from being one of 10 children?
About working with others and building consensus. About learning to compromise. I am the oldest, followed by five sisters, but I learned early that physical might doesn’t make right. In a large group, you learn about difference and how everybody brings something to the table that should be valued, even though it may seem different to you.
And in any large group, some will be out front while others hang back. As a leader, you can’t miss the opportunity to draw someone out just because they’re quiet. You seek them out, and most times you’ll find that they’ve got a lot to offer. The most vocal ones don’t necessarily have the best ideas.
What can alumni do to advance Bates athletics?
Alumni are critically important. One tends to think first about fundraising, but you also need to value and facilitate alumni involvement in a general way. Alumni can best describe the role athletics played in their personal growth and in who they are now. They can best reinforce the message of our mission. We need to engage alumni, whether that means welcoming them back wherever possible, creating mentoring opportunities or ways they can give students leads on jobs, or getting them involved with campus programs.
Last but not least: Red Sox or Yankees?
Honestly, the answer is “other.” I conserved my rooting energies for The College of New Jersey, and now I’ll conserve them for Bates. I just don’t have a real passion for anything professional because I don’t have emotional energy left over after I give it to the program I work for. That might sound like I’m waffling, but it’s true.
So the answer is Bobcats.
Absolutely. If I have anything left over, just tell me who’s playing who.
The complete press release of Kevin McHugh’s appointment: www.bates.edu/x158175.xml