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 May/June 2007 • NIRSA news and information
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Tom Kirch
Leadership Notes

How a 68-year-old book can still inspire an ever-changing organization

On a shelf in my office in Dixon Recreation Center lies an old tattered book titled Intramural Sports by Elmer Mitchell, copyright 1939. The author, who was Director of Intramurals at the University of Michigan, is considered by many to be the father of the intramural movement in our country. The inscription on the inside front page reads:

Clair Langton was the Dean of the College of Physical Education at Oregon State University and has the major physical education building on campus named after him. The book has been handed down over the years from one Intramural Director to another, and I now have the responsibility for its care and safety. When I arrived at Oregon State University over twenty years ago, I met a retired faculty member who worked with and spoke very highly of Dean Langton. Imagine having a connection that extends all the way back to the beginning of our profession through this manuscript. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

As you can imagine, the cover is worn and faded, the binding is coming loose, and pages are dog-eared, but for the most part, considering its age, it is in surprisingly good condition. Over the last several years, I have occasionally picked up the book and read selected parts. I found on one level the text to be very pedestrian, simple and to the point - a good resource for the beginning student intramural coordinator. However, on a closer examination, I found intertwined in the “how tos” of tournament bracketing, awards systems, and the like a clearly articulated mission and focus of what we all find so important to our work – the care and success of students. It is fascinating to find that the core of our work has changed little.

There are wonderful pictures of the Sports Building on the campus of the University of Michigan – the first dedicated facility for intramurals and what would later become known as recreational sports. Numerous institutions are highlighted and credited for their creativity, involvement and contributions to the field. I recognized a number of individuals I have read about in other publications, some of whom were instrumental in the development of the National Intramural Association. I have thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I tell you that story because when I arrived at the podium on the Saturday evening of the Honor Award Banquet, ready to accept the gavel as the next NIRSA President, I was overwhelmed by the daunting responsibility of being a part of the shared leadership of the Association. As I looked out into the room, packed to the back wall with our membership, I was filled with a variety of thoughts and emotions: pride, humility, responsibility, honor, concern, hope, and possibility, to name just a few. But my initial thought went back to Elmer Mitchell’s writings and the strong sense of our heritage that sat before me.

That heritage was not just in the eyes of those whom we have come to call the “seasoned professionals” but in the younger, perhaps more focused, eyes of a different generation. I saw individuals whom I have admired from afar who I’m now privileged to call my colleagues. I am honored that some are even considered friends. I saw former students who have become leaders in their own right. I saw the excitement of students and others who are pondering the possibilities for themselves in an organization that not only embraces them, but expects them to contribute to our success in the future. And I was reminded that my professional development is directly correlated with NIRSA and with the relationships I maintain with so many gathered together that evening. It is those faces that excite me, challenge me, and that I know will support NIRSA in our future directions.

But Mitchell’s writings were not only about our history - where we have come from, who we were, how we progressed. He has given us a foundation from which to build so that we can honor the past and embrace the future. Our greatest asset is our evolution, which is continual and never-ending. Constantly creating possibilities for the future gives all of us, young and old, the opportunity to craft our own expectations and contribute to a legacy for those that will come after us.

I hope you all have a wonderful and rewarding year and I look forward to working with you as we forge a path for our future.

Take care,


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