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Email on the Attempted Firing of Williams Coach Ralph White
May 15, 2007

Editor's Note: We received the following email from Suzanne Ivey on the attempted firing of Ralph White, the coach at Williams University (and the NCAA DIII coach of the year). (Message board thread here)

I am one of the founders of Friends of Williams Track and Field wishing to speak to several points coming up on this conversation.

There is no smoking gun, there are no devious means to success, and there are no improper relationships and no performance enhancing drugs, and no friend-of-a-friends first cousin who had a funky recruitment experience.  Coach White can’t recruit someone who would not get into the College otherwise, even though many rejected by Williams run for the Ivy’s. Quell your imagination and just look at what is in front of you.  The College hiding behind confidentiality is protecting no one, except possibly the administration.  Please stop imagining horrific secrets, and stop listening to rumors which impugn not only Coach White but some amazingly committed, hard-working and capable young people as well who have done nothing to deserve your unkind speculation but to put themselves heart and soul on the track and field! 

Yes! Coach White is amazingly successful, and has brought many winning athletes to the podium since being at Williams.  But what readers here don’t get, is that the success is not the primary goal but one of many outcomes of a deeply engrained belief system, some of which by its very power rankles and threatens others in the system, both within the Department, the administration of the College and maybe within the Division and NCAA, which by the way has once again named him Coach of the Year in all of New England, all Divisions.

There is no doubt Coach loves to win and is very competitive, but the fundamental “secret” here is how he is the “winningest” coach in Williams history.  His measure of a team is the degree to which the team will support every single member, even its least member, to dig down and find his/her own challenge, and do the work to meet it, to find and confront the obstacles.  Most of the team will never make it to a podium, but the energy of 130 athletes in pursuit of “personal best” is what elevates the whole team, and every individual who tries will have the whole team behind them, and will have an experience for their lifetime.  Consequently, year after year, there are student-athletes who found something there even they didn’t know they had.  Some of the point earners were not among the hot recruits, and some of the stars reached beyond what even they knew they had.  We have seen amazing surprise performances every year because Coach White helps his young men and women see what might be possible. His favorite quote is “Your body won’t go where your mind has not been.”

THAT is how Williams has been winning championships in Track and Field.

For Coach White, respect for oneself and support of others is paramount, and he expects his team to live clean, honor the gift of their healthy bodies, speak with respect, behave with honor, and to value the person they might become.  He pushes for them to get the most out of their educational opportunity, because he knows personally how precious that opportunity is. He encourages his members to value family, and to appreciate the opportunity that has been given, some by sacrifice, some by position, but all an opportunity not to be squandered.  He also continuously makes them aware of their role in the local and world community, and his efforts to recruit members from all walks of life has made the Track team one of the most ethnically and economically diverse entities on the campus.

His commitment to the all-comers team has been a point of conflict since he has been there, and at one point, he personally was buying shirts that the College wouldn’t because everyone who wanted to run for Williams would have the uniform.  He fought for his least financially secure members to have all the opportunities of the more affluent, so the whole team worked to raise money, so no one would be denied the spring training trip, and each would feel the pride of all.

Someone has asked what role Friends of Williams Track and Field has had in this situation, and where they are now and why the website is outdated.  Last year, when parents were frustrated that the track was crumbling literally beneath our kids’ feet, we went to the administration and were told a plan was in progress and to trust the chain of command.  Our kids were told by the AD that nothing more could be done, and that a plan was in process.  The Master Plan was up on the wall, yellowing and peeling, and had been there for five years.  Then we learned that the new plan was to build a temporary track at the high school fifteen minutes from campus and that our kids would be bussed out to practice (my kid has two lab courses every semester).  Now our kids, highly respected across the country, never had a chance to perform before their own College community.  We went to Coach to ask how such a plan could even be devised, and he said he had virtually no input until it was a done deal.  So we acted, formed Friends of Williams Track and Field, engaged the alumnae/ni and several hundred members of the teams since ‘46 responded.  In the process, the administration was embarrassed that so many people now knew that one of the best organizations on campus had been stonewalled for several years and could wait no more.

Last August, I discussed with a member of the Athletics Department how we might raise some small funds to support the spring training trip for financially struggling members without violating any College or NCAA rules, since we were not and had no intention of ever being a fund raising or fund earmarking group.  I learned a lot about kinds of fund and timelines, and clearly heard the complications of such endeavors as selling decals, t-shirts, etc were too much for our request to work out.  I graciously accepted the information, re-iterating that FWTF was not interested in interfering in any way with the fundraising relationship between the College and Alumnae/ni, and that there did not seem to be any way we could help with the trip.   I then was told in no uncertain terms that the administration was very angry with Friends, discouraged such organizations and that Ralph White would pay the ultimate price for our action for the new track.  I also learned shortly after that the contents of my phone conversation were completely misrepresented to the administration as though FWTF was moving full steam, College be damned.  Two days later, Coach White was ordered to have no further conversations with me, though my daughter was on the team.  For fear of making the situation even more precarious for him, we went dark on the website until all this was resolved so that could not be used against him, since that seemed to be the primary thorn in the administration’s side.

In retrospect, we made a huge mistake in doing so, because it allowed the administration to isolate him and act against him.  He attempted to deal with the promotion issue within the system and did not involve anyone else until several of us demanded to know what was happening.  The administration’s plan worked because they could then respond with the oft quoted letter that the case against Coach White had already been made, and that Morty personally guaranteed that procedures were meticulously followed.  Morty, Dean Wagner, and Acting AD Melendy were the parties in charge of creating the file that went to the faculty, and only God and they know what is in that file, but from what we have seen of parts, distortion evident.

This administration is squandering a gift: an exceptional coach who challenges everyone to be better.  The College should be embarrassed about their own dishonorable behavior in this atrocious situation.


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