Claremont McKenna Has Winning Program on and Off the Field

From Asociated Press

Claremont McKenna College cranks out corporate presidents, doctors, lawyers--and conference champions.

In what is one of the most successful small-college sports programs in the nation, CMC and its two associated colleges already this year have won eight of the 11 athletic titles contested in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

And the academically acclaimed institutions have have no athletic scholarships, no budget for potential scholar-athletes to visit the campus, and no well-heeled sports booster clubs.

"The athletes here are volunteers," said Athletic Director and football Coach John Zinda. "There is genuine amateur enthusiasm."

Twenty-five percent of the students at CMC, located 35 miles east of Los Angeles, take part in varsity sports--one of the highest percentages in the country.

Zinda estimates that as many as 80% of the school's 800 students are involved in athletics when junior varsity and intramural programs are added to varsity participation.

CMC, a highly ranked liberal arts college that stresses economics and government and admitted only about one-third of the students who applied this year, was founded in 1946 as Claremont Men's College, one of five colleges clustered in this picturesque community nestled at the eastern edge of Los Angeles County.

Women were admitted in 1981 but the name wasn't changed until 1986.

The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletic program is made up of CMC; Scripps College, which is for women only; and Harvey Mudd, an engineering college. Pomona and Pitzer colleges have teamed up to form another program.

CMC contributes the bulk of the athletes to the CMS teams competing in 17 varsity sports, said Robert Daseler, director of public affairs for CMC. For example, 57 members of the 60-man CMS varsity football team were CMC students.

"CMC is determined to produce leaders," Daseler said.

And CMC believes the best candidates for leadership are those whose interests vary--those who play musical instruments, participate in athletics, those who are active outside the classroom, he said.

"We look for students who are strong. There have only been 6,000 graduates of CMC. Of those,240 are corporate presidents. And a number of those were involved in sports," Daseler said.

"The emphasis here is on academics, however. There is no dispensation for playing sports," he added.

"It almost works against us," said Chris Dabrow, 22, a senior from Tustin, a political science major who plays both varsity football and baseball.

Dabrow hopes to get a tryout with an NFL team.

"It's a dream. I would love to do it. But if I don't get it, I won't be a janitor," he said.

Dabrow hit .359 while catching for the CMS baseball team and was the nation's Division III rushing leader with 168 yards per game for the football team. As a scholar, Dabrow has maintained close to a B average.

"Competition is just as tough here," he said. "Here you have a bunch of guys who just love the sport."

"There is a sense of optimism here," Daseler said. "Athletics is a reflection of that. CMC students feel they are on a roll. The number of national (academic) scholarships is way up. This is an aggressive, competitive group of kids. Now a sense of confidence has been added."

Of the 11 SCIAC championships up for grabs this year, CMS teams have won eight, he said, with tennis and baseball still undetermined.

Titles already won this year include football, men' and women's basketball, men's and women's soccer, men's water polo, men's swimming and women's cross country.

Zinda believes sports relieve student pressure.

"The academic nature of this college would be unbearable without the release. It's healthy. These students work awfully hard," he said.

Zinda admits CMS coaches don't ask as much of their students as coaches at Division I and II schools.

"There's no way we could ask the same amount of time. Everything else is the same, though. We run a disciplined program.

So what do the students get out of it?

"The No. 1 thing is courage. They need to face this daily in their lives. They are tested constantly on their mental as well as physical courage. This applies all through life. They'll always be asking: 'What price do I want to pay to play this game?"' Zinda said.

The competition itself is a dividend, the coach believes.

"It requires mental preparedness. We've had lawyers and doctors who have learned this here. The results are very positive," Zinda said.

Stacey McIlroy, a 20-year-old sophomore from Tucson, Ariz., who plays basketball, looks at her athletic involvement for discipline and self-motivation.

"We're not under contract here. But we give our best effort all the time," she said.

Todd Thomas, a 21-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M., also plays basketball.

"I love to compete and win. It has helped me in my life--in setting and achieving goals. You need to set goals. It's keeps you hungry and gives you something to shoot for," he said.

Colin Schmidt, 21, a philosophy, political science and economics major from Denver, plays soccer and serves as student body president at CMC.

"I always wanted a balance of things. This is the ideal opportunity," he said.

That opportunity has allowed him to reach his personal potential, he said.

"Soccer is a team sport. There are a lot of social benefits. I had 30 friends from day one. It's fun to be part of a team," Schmidt said.

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