Conceived in 2009, the Carleton Athletics Initiative (CAI) has helped campus find silver linings in a few difficult times.
When seven inches of rain gutted Laird Stadium in the fall of 2010, the building’s insurance coverage would have restored the stadium only to its pre-flood state—which was virtually the same as its 1927 opening. That wasn’t good enough for a group of former Carleton athletes.
Led by efforts from Andrew Engel ’82 P’12, Don Frost, Jr ’83 P’13, Grace Guggenheim ’82, John Schlifske ’81, Brent Siegel ’83, Paul Van Valkenburg ’82, and Alison Macdonald von Klemperer ’82 P’16, alumni donations poured in. These gifts helped CAI raise enough funds to turn historic Laird Stadium into a first-rate facility. Out of the mire of the flood, an even better stadium arose.
“It makes a huge difference when we’re recruiting,” says athletic director Gerald Young. “We’re competing against other colleges for student athletes, and they look at equipment and facilities. In order to attract student athletes, we need to make sure we’re up to date.”
Funds raised by CAI support both varsity and club sports and are directed at equity upgrades and safety improvements, Young says.
Safety concerns arose sharply in 2014, when tragedy struck campus. Three Carleton Frisbee players were killed in a car accident, and CAI again sought to make a difference for student athletes. Now, in order to minimize the number of students driving to club sports events, CAI funds help provide commercial buses to transport students to and from club sports events. Because of this initiative, more than 500 cars each year are taken off the road.
“This has been highly successful,” Young says, “and is helping keep our students safer.”
“Transportation to club sport events is huge,” says Caroline Duke ’17. “There are so many great club teams and club athletes at Carleton, and this funding gives them the opportunity to play the sports they love.” Duke, who plays softball and volleyball, is also on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.
Other CAI projects in recent years have included new varsity uniforms. It used to be, Young said, that if a team wanted new uniforms, it had to save up for them out of its own budget. Now, all varsity teams are on a three-year rotation for uniforms.
“When my daughter was playing soccer at Carleton, the soccer team didn’t even have warm-ups,” said CAI committee member Don Frost. “We’re not trying to put bells and whistles on everything, but Carleton athletes are serious athletes, and they should have the necessary uniforms and equipment.”
As a side benefit, uniforms are often reused rather than trashed. Frost’s daughter, Sarah Ferrari ’13, brought old Knights uniforms to the soccer team she coached while in the Peace Corps in Morocco.
“New uniforms and new equipment make a big difference in the lives of student athletes,” Duke said. “They seem small, but they create a feeling that is bigger than any jersey and definitely contribute to the spirit of Carleton athletics.”
More than 400 varsity athletes from 20 teams and 500 club sports athletes from 25 different sports each year benefit from CAI, and its resources have supported everything from aikido to water polo. The softball field was upgraded, a new NCAA-regulation cross country course was added to the Arb, the indoor track installed a new scoreboard, and all club sports athletes were given access to athletic trainers, something most colleges don’t offer to club sports.
“That’s extremely important,” Frost says. “The student playing rugby is as committed and working as hard as the student playing varsity basketball.”
It’s also important to remember that athletes at Carleton are also students, Young says. “At other colleges there is a separation between athletes and students. But here, gifts made to the CAI support not just athletes, but quality Carleton students.”