Chris Clunie ’06 will tell you he has the best job in the world.
He will also tell you Davidson College has no peers.
The Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World campaign added tremendous momentum to Division I athletics at Davidson. Here’s a look at what’s to come from the director of athletics, now in his second year at the helm of the college’s 21 Division I programs.
The Game Changers campaign raised nearly $60 million for athletics. What does that kind of support mean for our programs and scholar-athletes?
I think it shows how connected people feel and how grateful they are to be associated with Davidson. They know we have programs that always try to do things the right way. It allows coaches to build successful programs. It allows us to bring the right scholar-athletes—the best ones who should be here and who fit—to Davidson. This allows us to maximize the benefits to the institution.
During the campaign, we completed capital projects for almost every program, and we significantly enhanced annual support across the board. We have to shed the layer of being the underdog or the overachiever. We are right where we need to be. Gifts from alumni, families and friends give us a confidence—a boldness—and allow us to push forward.
You’ve said we have no peers. What does that mean?
There is nobody our size competing at the same level. We are playing Division I, and 19 of our 21 programs are in a top eight conference, the Atlantic 10.
There are many people who will say you can’t do academics and athletics at a high level, and we say you can. We will not sacrifice classroom for athletics—we’re committed to doing both the right way. This is how college athletics was intended to be—focus on getting an incredible education and try to win championships.
A sophomore on the football team, Dreylan Hines, was leaning toward Tulane University. They said he could play football, but he couldn’t be pre-med at the same time. What happens? He comes to Davidson and does both. Last year, he was named the Pioneer Football League Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year while also earning a spot on the PFL Academic Honor Roll. That’s what we do.
How do you see scholarships making a difference?
First, they change people’s lives. On an individual level, I see them providing opportunities to students who have the potential to change our world. On an institutional level, we want the best scholar-athletes at Davidson. And we want to be their first choice. For many students, they want to come here, but financially it doesn’t work, so they choose a school with greater resources and scholarships.
There are countless examples of the way scholarships allow us to recruit top talent. Our wrestling program was able to recruit Dalton Blankenship ’23, a four-time state champion from Georgia. Our men’s tennis program was able to award the Bryan Scholarship to Will Clark ’23, who was looking at a number of other schools. Volleyball player Lauryn Albold ’22 was recruited by several top programs, and the Norris Scholarship allowed her to choose us. Our men’s track and field program had one of the top 11 recruiting classes in the country this year. Imagine what we could do with even more.
What inspires you around this work?
I walked on to the Davidson men’s basketball team, was a Terry Scholar and earned a Watson Fellowship. These experiences set me up for success and changed my life in ways I never knew possible. To provide the same impact for so many other scholar-athletes—that’s really exciting.
We have so many opportunities right now. We want to recruit and retain the best people—players and coaches. We want to expand services for scholar-athletes around career counseling, wellness, nutrition and travel, while staying within the academic restrictions we have committed to—these things take resources. Not every school is worried about teams flying to Rhode Island and being back in time for class the next morning.
One other area that’s particularly inspiring right now is our community. We’ve started a new community service initiative called Cats Care, and it is intended to draw deeper connections between our scholar-athletes, the community and our supporters. We’ve done the research, and what draws people to Davidson isn’t always about the education or the Honor Code. It’s the people. To live and work and learn here—that’s something special. We want to share that with the community and give back along the way.
President Quillen is all in for Davidson athletics—you can check her Twitter account for proof. How does that support enable success?
Carol’s energy is as apparent on the sidelines and in board rooms as it is on Twitter and in the NCAA conversation. She is passionate about the educational value of athletics and how our programs fit into the leadership and service values of the college. Our coaches are teachers. Not every college has a president who truly understands why it matters and how it should work, but we have Carol’s full support. She has made a tremendous difference in the impact she has allowed athletics to have on campus, as well as in encouraging people to make a difference for athletics. She is an advocate for how scholar-athletes enhance the classroom experience for all students.
What does the future look like for Davidson athletics?
Our move to the A-10 put us on a national stage and in major markets. Our national footprint is greater. It has changed how we operate, how we travel. Its ripple effect shifted Davidson athletics to a higher level across the board.
Davidson is not yet the best version of itself. And that’s great. We owe it to ourselves to create the best possible environment for our scholar-athletes to be successful and set them up for their lives after Davidson. That’s the big goal.
We have perfected doing more with less. Imagine what we could do with more.