SOMERS — Andrew Gavin has been on the job for just four months, but the new University of Wisconsin-Parkside Director of Athletics has definitely hit the ground running.
Gavin, who replaced Tamie Falk-Day as AD on Aug. 1, is working on making Parkside athletics more attractive to the Racine-Kenosha community through initiatives designed to push the Rangers’ brand throughout the region and beyond.
But that’s just one of several irons the 34-year-old Gavin has in the fire. He is overseeing Parkside’s switch from the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and is helping guide the athletic department through sweeping sanctions handed down by the GLVC for NCAA compliance issues in the previous two academic years.
All of those things are what drew Gavin to the Rangers’ job. He was serving as the associate athletic director for advancement and external relations at his alma mater, Centre College in Danville, Ky., before coming to Parkside.
“What I saw when I investigated the opportunity was a great chance for me to make an impact on a really good group of athletes and coaches at a really good university,” Gavin said. “I think the challenge and the opportunity to take a step forward and help Parkside athletics move into the future was appealing to me.”
Praise from coaches
He has already impressed members of the Rangers coaching staff. Men’s basketball coach Luke Reigel noted Gavin’s enthusiasm.
“Andrew has been a breath of fresh air for Ranger athletics,” Reigel said. “His energy, creativity, and ability to connect with the entire coaching staff and community members are the things that stand out the most during his brief time at UWP.”
And cross country and track and field coach Thomas Breitbach said Gavin’s ability to juggle all the facets of what the athletic program is going through has been impressive.
“Amidst the chaos of many spinning plates, it’s exciting and inspiring to be able to see what (and how much) taking Ranger athletics forward means to Andrew,” Breitbach said. “Each meeting and each interaction with Andrew leaves me excited to ... continue taking our program to the next level.”
Ranger brand is top priority
The priority for Gavin’s is selling Parkside athletics to the community. In his two years at Centre, he restructured its corporate partners program and he did similar work at UW-Green Bay when he worked there from 2010-15. He said there are many similarities between the situations at Green Bay and Parkside.
“What we did at Green Bay that was really, really important to the success of that athletics department was telling our story,” Gavin said. “It allowed me to see the different ways that we could tell our story, celebrate our student athletes, share our success with the community in ways that would excite them and bring them to our events, and want to be a part of it.
“An initiative that is important to us is being out proactively in the community, telling our story, making sure the community knows we have really high-level student-athletes here and they’re accomplishing some really great things.”
Other initiatives include building business partnerships, developing a Ranger Kids Club and Community Days, and expanding Alumni Day to the entire community.
Gavin said all the pieces are in place to get the word out. In addition to having thousands of runners compete on the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course on the school’s campus every year, Gavin estimated 30,000 young people participate each year at Parkside events, such as sports camps and clinics, facility rentals, high school practices, AAU tournaments and high school track meets.
“What we’re really trying to think about is how are we making an impression on them that they want to come back,” Gavin said. “That may mean coming back for a basketball event, wrestling dual or track meet, or as a prospective student on a recruiting visit.”
‘Defining our own asterisk’
Another major issue Gavin has had to tackle is the GLVC sanctions, which affected all Rangers sports, even though some were not directly involved in the compliance issues.
Gavin said for the most part, the student-athletes and coaches have remained positive during the year-long sanctions, which among other things prevent Parkside teams from being conference champions and competing in conference tournaments or NCAA Division II tournaments.
“I have been impressed and continue to be impressed with the commitment and resilience our athletes have shown,” Gavin said. “We’re undefeated on Senior Day (in each fall sport) and that’s something I’m very proud of for them. That speaks to how our coaches and our student-athletes have really committed to getting everything possible out of their seasons.”
One initiative for the athletic department is “Defining our own asterisk,” which comes from the asterisk (*) placed at the bottom of the GLVC standings indicating that Parkside is ineligible for postseason play.
“One of the things that resonated with me through the interview process is how close (Parkside’s) coaches were and how much there was support across one sport to another,” Gavin said. “With broad sanctions impacting in certain sports, they could have thought they were being unfairly punished for a violation in another sport. I was concerned about losing that unity and ‘us together’ feeling, but I’ve been very proud of our athletes for how they rallied around each other.”
University support ‘energizing’
Gavin said it isn’t just his presence that is keeping the athletic department in a positive mood.
“The support athletics has received through adversity, through transition and as we try to map out the way forward, from Chancellor (Debbie) Ford and the leadership on campus, and so many departments on this campus, has been astounding and really, really refreshing and energizing,” Gavin said.
Ford has already seen the effect Gavin has had on the Rangers’ athletic programs in just four months.
“From the moment he joined our team, you could sense his sincere dedication to the success and well-being of our student-athlete,” Ford said. “Andrew is focused on listening and learning about the university, Ranger athletics and the community of southeastern Wisconsin. His primary goal is to create and support an optimal experience for student-athletes, coaches, university faculty and staff, and fans.”