They’ve Got Spirit Yes They Do; They’ve Got Spirit How ‘Bout You?


School Spirit Comes with a Smile At Henderson State

school spirit at henderson state comes with a smile


By Simon Lee

In this business of sportswriting, one regularly is blessed with being exposed to School Spirit. Much of it is fun, exciting, well reheared and performed reflexively, as if a doctor takes his hammer, saying “ARKANSAS!” to your knee, which responds “RAZORBACKS!”

Every school has its signature cheer, and even if the stands are mostly empty, and the beloved team is a losing one taking to the court or the field or the pitch or the track or the pool, you’ll hear that cheer coming from someone, somewhere. The older I get, the more sentimental the Woo’s, Go’s, Howl’s and Call-and-Responses become. The more persnickety I am about how they are SUPPOSED to go, too.

“When I was a kid, we did it like this… The way it is SUPPOSED to go…”

“Throwing the what?!?…”

“Get off my lawn!…”

Recently I was invited to Arkadelphia to take a tour around Henderson State University, which, for the record, has a fantastic and a competitive collegiate athletic program, and, quite frankly, through the leadership of Troy Mitchell, the school has one of the finest sports information departments at any level, anywhere.

At any rate, the offer from friends at Henderson was easy to accept because as a kid growing up in Arkansas – DeGray Lake for long weekends of boating, fishing and camping; Arkadelphia for pizza night away from the campsite; Henderson for band camps; and Ouachita for student council conferences – these were all highlights that give the town south and west of Hot Springs on Arkansas Highway 7 a special spot in my personal Arkansas Life.

Prepared for the Rah Rah of the job at hand and wearing red to show a tip of the hat to the approximately 3,500 students at Henderson, I was immediately struck by a kind of School Spirit I had not expected. And even more than the blare of the brass in a band playing a fight song (which gets me EVERY TIME) this School Spirit from the Reddies got to me, too.

No, there was no pep rally marking the arrival of the Sporting Life Arkansas sports desk; no cheerleaders lining President’s Drive or standing around the fountain at the entrance of campus. But the School Spirit was something to experience, and I’ll do my best to describe it to you.

A smile and a “Hello, how are you?” A smile and a “That’s good” in response to a reply. A nod and a smile from someone else across campus and another “Hello” from over near the Garrison Building. At least 12 times in a couple of hours, the smiles were contagious.

So friendly. These were all 18-22 year old students. Every single one of them with a big, happy smile and a sincere, friendly “Hello, how do you do” to a stranger.

In business, millions and millions of dollars are spent each year to train and perfect “Customer Service.” So many checks are written everyday by companies to employees whose jobs include cajoling customers into sharing their stories or “engage” with them through social media. At some point, doesn’t it all come off as so contrived? And meaningless?

But here I am on a small, Southern college campus, a state-supported public institution of higher education, and I can’t turn around twice without being greeted with School Spirit from students, who, lets face it, are customers. There’s not a Fortune 500 corporation in the country that wouldn’t fork over a Q1 worth of marketing budget for the reviews and social engagements we’re seeing in every corner of campus.

I guess that’s why it was all so refreshing – happy people at a happy place being happy and hoping you are happy too.

school spirit charles dunn student recreation centerOne of the stops on the tour this day was to the Charles D. Dunn Student Recreation Center, named for the long-time president of Henderson State University who retired in 2008 and died last May at the age of 67.

The obituary marking his passing read:

An educator for 43 years, he began and ended his career teaching political science to college students, a role he dearly loved.

… [I]n February of 1986 he was named the 14th President of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

He retired from the presidency in 2008 and at twenty-two years in the position, was the longest serving president in the university’s history. He ended his career at Henderson as President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Political Science, teaching courses in the American Presidency, Political Behavior, and State & Local Government.

In each of his roles in higher education, he was focused on the needs of students and was particularly proud to serve the needs of students from Arkansas.

There is no more proof of a college president who was focused on the needs of students than the recreation center that bares his name.

Chad J. Fielding, assistant vice president and dean of students at Henderson, said he worked with student leaders from organizations across campus in 2007, a year before Dunn’s retirement, to determine interest in a recreation facility. Students helped with the planning and approved of a student fee – $125 per student each semester and a little more than $30 per student each summer term, if enrolled for classes. Fielding, who exudes passion for his role working with students as dean, said the first day he saw the recreation center open and in use in 2009, got to him. Another example of that Henderson School Spirit.

Part of School Spirit is pride, and if you can find a “rec center” building used by more than 300 students daily for fitness, and more than 500 a day during big intramural events, that is as clean and well appointed as the Charles D. Dunn Student Recreation Center at Henderson, I want to see it with my own eyes. This place looks brand new and it was almost unbelievable that it has been used by at least 500,000 people. And used by not just any people! We’re talking about 18-22 year olds!

Kristopher “Kris” Dunn, the director of campus recreation and the manager of the center, beams when he talks about the facility and all of its offerings.

  • Fitness classes
  • Top of the line Nautilus weight systems
  • Cardio machines, each with private screens and cable
  • Mondo flooring on the track and in the lifting and cardio areas
  • Maple basketball courts, sitting on world-class suspension system
  • Outdoor center and program

Fielding discussed the collaboration with students that took place back in 2007 and throughout the building of the rec center and Dunn emphasized it at almost every point.

“This is a green facility,” he said. “Students wanted natural lighting. Look at all of these windows.”

And it is true. In the non-winter months, there are many areas of the building you could get in a workout, a walk around the track or a pick up basketball game all by sunlight – bringing the outdoors in.

Speaking of the outdoors, Dunn said school administrators and student leaders toured other student recreation centers around the country for ideas, tips and pitfalls toschool spirit at henderson state outdoor program avoid. The rec center at a campus in Fort Lewis, Colo., boasted an outdoor program that rented everything a student would need to hike, camp, kayak or climb. The concept was considered a must for Henderson’s new facility. Allowing students to maximize all of the nature surrounding them in this part of Arkansas is a no-brainer.

When you walk through the front doors of the Henderson facility, you are, of course, greeted by a smiling student at the front desk. Which reminds us that both Fielding and Dunn pointed out part of the mission of the recreation center is to provide opportunities for student employment. There are as many as 23 students who have jobs in the facility. That employment number doesn’t include volunteers, often students, who also use the facility to teach free classes, like spin, yoga and step aerobics.

henderson state student recreation centerOnce inside the building, a prominent tile mural of the Henderson State University Reddies “H” Logo visually jumps up from the floor. To the left is a built in boulder wall, allowing students, and the Wilderness Reddies Bouldering Club, specifically, to hone their skills climbing. It is a striking feature and looks like a ton of fun.

Everything about this center reflects well on the man whose name is out front. In October of 2009, at the time of the grand opening, then-president of Henderson State University and current president of the Arkansas State University system, Dr. Charles Welch, highlighted there were few student centers like the Charles D. Dunn Student Recreation Center in Arkansas or anywhere in the country for that matter.

Welch, with a big smile, called the facility breathtaking. It remains so.

* * *

Simon Lee, publisher of Sporting Life Arkansas is an executive who focuses on healthcare, physician referral strategies, patient recruitment and activities-based lifestyle promotion. Simon’s work includes CLIO-award winning efforts for global healthcare companies. You can follow his occasional postings on Twitter here.

Tags: , ,