Salute to Weller part of Central’s Division III Week

PELLA — Central College is helping recognize Division III Week through Saturday of this week.

The annual recognition is part of the NCAA Division III identity initiative which seeks to raise the public profile of Division III institutions as places where student-athletes can “follow your passions and develop your potential.”

A tribute to the father of Division III–Central’s recognition takes on a special poignancy this year with the March 25 passing of Central president emeritus Kenneth J. Weller, author of the first Division III philosophy statement, which advocated that the focus of intercollegiate athletics should be on benefits for the participant rather than the spectator, and that student-athletes be treated no differently than students involved in other cocurricular activities. He was called a “founding father” of Division III by The Intercollegiate Athletic Forum in 1996, a sentiment recently echoed by Dan Dutcher, now retired after 25 years as vice president of Division III. He called Weller the “father of Division III.”

“I have never met a leader as passionate about the benefits of combining athletics and other forms of co-curricular activities with academic pursuits,” said athletics director Eric Van Kley. “Nothing pleased him more than seeing a student-athlete excel in the classroom.

A memorial service for Weller will be conducted Saturday at 11 am at Second Reformed Church in Pella.

Weller was instrumental in the incorporation of women into the NCAA in the early 1980s and he and his wife Shirely witnessed Central winning the first women’s national championship ever staged by the NCAA, the Division III women’s cross country title in 1981. The Dutch have captured 11 NCAA national team championships overall, winning titles in six sports, starting with the 1974 Division III football title.
Prior to coming to Central, Weller was an economics professor and coach at Hope College (Mich.) and spent a lot of time thinking about the role of athletics within higher education.

“I grew to appreciate the role of athletics as complementary to academics, not a detriment,” Weller said.

Central president Mark Putnam embraces the college’s role as a Division III leader.

“Central is deeply rooted in Division III,” Putnam said. “The college has provided leadership within Division III throughout its history, starting with Ken Weller, who was an integral part of Division III’s formation, to hall of fame football coach Ron Schipper. Our former dean of students, Marjorie Giles, who was the first female president of the Iowa Conference, also served on the NCAA Council, and many others have led as well.

“We join hundreds of other institutions in celebrating Division III as a place where students truly can follow their passions, participating in nationally competitive athletics programs without sacrificing opportunities to immerse themselves in rigorous academic pursuits, participate in transformative study abroad experiences or pursue any number of other co-curricular activities which offer potential for growth and development.”

An ideal balance—Academic goals are a priority for juniors Trey Melvin (Lawrence, Kan., Free State HS)but he’s glad that choosing Central allows him the freedom to continue developing on a highly competitive basis in men’s tennis.

“Division III athletics let me compete at a quality academic institution like Central that cares equally for athletics and academics, which define a student-athlete,” Melvin said. “As a Division III athlete, I love the idea of ​​playing a sport because I want to, instead of having to. Sports have been an integral part of my life since my youth and have complemented my educational experience. As a student-athlete, I wanted to continue to play the sport I love while receiving an education from a great college.”

The NCAA’s largest–Division III is the NCAA’s largest division, with 438 active members representing 43 conferences. More than 80 percent are private institutions and the schools are diverse, with enrollment ranging from 274 to 25,872. The average Division III School enrolls 2,577 students. Division III stages championships in 37 sports. Central offers 20 and more than half of the college’s students participate in athletics during their undergraduate careers.

The NCAA is allocating $35.1 million to Division III in 2021-22, which is 3.18% of the NCAA’s operating budget.

More than 197,000 student-athletes compete in Division III, about 38.8 percent of all those in the NCAA. Research shows that student-athletes report greater involvement in volunteering than the student body as a whole and have a graduation rate that is 5% higher.

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