Team player retires

-If Chad Yowell made a brilliant move or a visionary decision, he would never admit it to you.

“The story of my career is that I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” the executive director of Wheaton’s athletics program said recently while looking back on more than three decades in college sports.

Athletic Director Chad Yowell honored“I have been blessed to work with college leaders and coaches who understand the role of athletics at a liberal arts college and who have supported the department in its efforts to be the best it can be,” Yowell says. “Those are the people who should get most of the recognition for the program’s successes.”

Dean of Students Emerita Sue Alexander says that is typical. “Chad has always known the secret of being a successful administrator, which undoubtedly comes from his background as a coach. Although he has always readily accepted the responsibility for any problems in the athletics program, he has never taken credit for the successes. He leads by mentoring and credits his coaches and their players for their achievements.”

Chad Yowell is honored during a women’s basketball pre-game ceremony. Dean of Students Lee Burdette Williams (left) and former Dean Sue Alexander are at his side.
Chad Yowell is honored during a women’s basketball pre-game ceremony. Dean of Students Lee Burdette Williams (left) and former Dean Sue Alexander are at his side.

In December, Yowell announced his intention to retire after 23 years. The program that he leaves behind looks vastly different from the one in place when he arrived on campus in 1988. At the time, Wheaton was becoming coeducational, and the college planned to expand athletics. During his tenure, the college has added four teams to women’s intercollegiate sports, established a full men’s program, and expanded intramural and club sports. Wheaton also built the Haas Athletic Center and Sidell Stadium, projects that Yowell oversaw, as well as significant renovations to Clark Recreation Center, Mirrione Stadium and Keefe Field. He also has given Wheaton a national presence through his participation in conference and NCAA leadership work.

Yowell says he takes the most satisfaction from hiring talented coaches, and building strong relationships with faculty, staff and students across campus.

“In my opinion, athletics can’t be isolated or stand on its own. If you try to do that, you’re not going to be able to give students the well-rounded experience that they deserve to get at a liberal arts college,” he says. The comment reflects his background, which includes serving as dean of students for Pacific University in Oregon, before coming to Wheaton, as well as stints as the school’s women’s basketball coach and athletics director.

That sense of connection to the college’s core educational mission is something that stood out for Michele L’Heureux ’88, when she first talked to him as the sole student member of the committee seeking to hire an athletics director.

“I remember that Chad had done his research and seemed to fully understand what Wheaton was all about and how athletics fit into a place like Wheaton,” says L’Heureux, who played both volleyball and softball. “He was relaxed and had a great sense of humor during the interview, and he took me—a mere student on a major search committee—very seriously.”

L’Heureux was so impressed that she insisted the committee invite Yowell for a full interview.  The rest is history.

“Chad’s contributions to Wheaton have strengthened the college greatly,” says President Ronald A. Crutcher. “His leadership helped to build Wheaton athletics into a highly competitive program. More important, Chad’s strong sense of ethics, good humor and balance have reinforced Wheaton’s determination to view athletics as an aspect of our overall educational goals.”

Yet the person who interpreted Yowell’s easy-going demeanor as tolerance for not playing to win would have been making a grave mistake. He loves to win, and Wheaton’s athletics program has certainly won, a lot. During the past two decades, the college has won eight NCAA national championships, 13 Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) titles, and 86 New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regular season and tournament crowns.

“He always instilled pride in effort and determination—not necessarily victory, although we certainly loved those,” Alexander recalls. “Some of my fondest memories of Chad were watching games from the sidelines, and if our opponents had just scored or made a great play, Chad would yell, “That’s all right—nobody hurt!”

Perhaps because Yowell attended so many games—more than 1,800 during his tenure—student-athletes know very well how he felt.

“Winning and competing at the highest level has always been extremely important to Chad,” says Chris Sullivan ’93, the college’s all-time points leader in men’s basketball. “But even more important is doing so the right way: with class and dignity. Without a doubt, I would say that is the single biggest influence he has had on students during his tenure.”

“Chad was always extremely approachable, and he was interested in all aspects of a student’s life, not just athletics.” Sullivan adds that Yowell still inquires about his parents and his children whenever they meet.

For the former dean of students turned athletics director, appreciating the whole student was always the point of his work. “That is what has really kept me in this business: the fact that I could have connections with students,” he says