Got Game

By Brian Magoffin | Fall 2015

New AD Craig Poisson links important eras in College’s athletic history

When Craig Poisson, DPE, was asked as a kindergartener what he wanted to be as an adult, he imagined professional athlete. By first grade he had moved onto becoming a firefighter. However, by second grade, Poisson had figured out his life goal: athletic director.

Such a dream was not much of a stretch considering with whom he sat around the dinner table each night. His father Francis, enjoyed a 35-year career as an athletic administrator before retiring as the director of athletics at the University of Bridgeport in 1990. His mother, Chickie, was an inductee in five athletic halls of fame, including as a member of the inaugural class of the U.S. Field Hockey Hall of Fame, who served as the captain of the U.S. Field Hockey team that played in front of the Queen of England in Wembley Stadium.

“There was never a shortage of meaningful and colorful conversations at dinner,” remembers Poisson. “I learned more about Title IX over a bowl of pasta than anywhere else.”

Growing up—literally and figuratively—on the sidelines, Poisson says he didn’t make much of an impact on the field in his youth. In fact, he’s quick to point out that he lost his ego in the seventh grade when he was named the first alternate to the middle school boys’ basketball team.

However, Poisson has made quite the impact off the field, and as of July 1, assumed the reins of one of the premier athletic departments at the NCAA Division III level.

“I’m a link between two very important eras in Springfield College athletics and I understand how our traditions and core values shaped us to where we are today.”

Despite only a few months as the director of athletics behind him, Poisson is no stranger to the campus. He has more than two decades of athletics administration experience, spent the previous 19 years as a member of the athletics staff and professor of physical education, and earned his Master of Education and Doctor of Physical Education at Springfield College.

During his time as student, faculty member, and administrator, Poisson has had the unique opportunity to work in various capacities for the past three directors of athletics at Springfield College: Edward S. Steitz, G’48, DPE ’63, Edward R. Bilik ’57, G’62, and Cathie Schweitzer.

“There are certain intangibles that I learned from each of those three that have shaped my leadership style today. As a student of Dr. Steitz, I learned the nuts and bolts of athletic administration, while Dr. Bilik taught me that nothing beats preparation and how to truly attack the administrative functions. Dr. Schweitzer showed me, over the past 15 years, the importance of treating people fairly and having an open door policy,” he explains.

To get to this point in his professional career, Poisson admits that he has leaned on his mentors, several who were assistants or associate athletic directors at Springfield College.

“I’ve been very fortunate to learn from a Springfield icon such as Frank Wolcott ’52, G’60, and intercollegiate leaders such as former director of athletics at MCLA, Scott Nichols, and Bridget Belgiovine, G’87, the current director of athletics at Wellesley College,” he says.

In his previous role as senior associate director of athletics, Poisson’s administrative duties focused on scheduling and event management for the College’s 26 varsity sport programs, including serving as the point person for the numerous regional and national championships hosted on campus. Now he’s making the transition from procuring boxed lunches, vans, and tables and chairs, to leading the department from a global perspective, fostering relationships, and shaping the student-athlete experience. And, he excitedly looks forward to more.

“When I began my career at Springfield College, it was during our transition from a Division II to Division III institution and on the heels of the team name change. Chronologically, I’m a link between two very important eras in Springfield College athletics and I understand how our traditions and core values shaped us to where we are today,” he says.

“As she enters her third year as our president, Dr. Mary-Beth Cooper has made it clear that athletics plays an important role on this campus, and she expects our teams to excel and our student-athletes to be leaders. I’m very much looking forward to being a part of her leadership team, which includes a few other new faces in addition to my own,” he says.

As the landscape of intercollegiate athletics continues to evolve and change, Poisson knows that there are major issues on the forefront of the student-athlete experience, ones that he anticipates that Springfield College is poised to take on.

“The NCAA has been very candid about its evaluation of the funding for Division III championships, and we know it could be drastically altered in the future,” Poisson says. “The championship experience is so critical to the student-athlete experience, especially here at Springfield, where we’ve had an individual national champion the past seven years, and a men’s volleyball program which has played in six-consecutive national title matches.”

The current funding formula for NCAA Division III championships is thought, by many, to be unsustainable, says Poisson, who is keeping a close eye on this topic and the impact it will make on programs like Springfield’s, which have achieved national prominence. On the topic of finances, Poisson is encouraged about the growth of Friends of Springfield College Athletics during the past two years and the engagement of the student-athlete alumni base, support that will be important should the athletics funding landscape change dramatically.

Poisson is quick to mention the $10,000 NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant that Springfield College Psychology Professor Judy L. VanRaalte, PhD, recently received. Through this, she has focused her research on student-athlete mental health. VanRaalte’s research highlights the additional stresses NCAA student-athletes face beyond those of their non-athlete peers. Poisson understands the importance of using findings like these to better prepare today’s student-athletes.

“Nationwide, we are facing a mental health crisis, and our student-athletes need to be assured that we are concerned with their general well being,” says Poisson, adding that he is confident that the College counseling center, led by Brian Krylowicz, PhD, is equipped to handle the changing needs of the student population at Springfield College.

Another area for Poisson’s attention is opportunities for inclusion of disabled athletes in Division III athletics. Most recently, the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) board of directors adopted an inclusive sport strategy that will provide new intercollegiate athletic opportunities for student-athletes with a variety of disabilities attending ECAC member colleges and universities in NCAA divisions I, II and III. This strategy includes providing reasonable accommodations in existing events and adding adaptive-specific events to existing ECAC championship sports such as track and field, swimming, rowing, and tennis. ECAC directors hope to add new leagues and championships for such adaptive team sports as wheelchair basketball, sled hockey, goal ball, and sitting volleyball.

“We are lucky at Springfield College to have faculty athletic representative Bob Accorsi, G’80, who has expertise in disabled sport. I will rely on Bob’s experience and knowledge to provide options for students with disabilities that help them achieve their dreams of competing as intercollegiate varsity athletes,” Poisson explains.

Poisson is excited about what the future might hold for Springfield College, and he is realistic about the challenges that face him and his staff. He says he knows it will take a team effort, a philosophy that was engrained around his family dinner table, but he is confident in the players with whom he will work.

“I have a leadership team around me that wants to make the student-athlete experience better than it was yesterday.”

“I get to come to work every day with veteran coaching staff members who have dedicated their lives to teaching. I have a leadership team around me that wants to make the student-athlete experience better than it was yesterday,” he says. “I am surrounded by more than 700 student-athletes who are dedicated to excellence, living their lives with integrity, and carving out their own legacies at an institution with a tremendous athletic tradition and history of success. It’s my job to continue to give them the best opportunity to excel as leaders, difference makers, and competitors. ”

As Poisson ushers in a new era in Springfield College athletics, his collaborative management approach will allow members of his staff, who cumulatively possess more than 100 years of administrative experience, to make their impact felt. Kevin Wood ’02, G’06, is the newest addition to the staff and returns to his alma mater to fill Poisson’s former role as associate director of athletics, after a seven-year stint as the athletics operations manager at Bloomsburg University. He joins Kiki Jacobs, associate director of athletics. Others influential in leading the program include Equipment and Facilities Supervisor Janiece Holder, G’05, Head Athletic Trainer Barclay Dugger, G’96, Recruiting/Retention Coordinator Erica Hollot, Director of Strength and Conditioning Brian Thompson, and Director of Sports Communications Brian Magoffin ’05.

“Last year, we finished ranked in the top 40 of the 444 Division III athletic programs in the country for the eighth-consecutive year. Our consistency in the Division III Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup proves we’ve been an influential program in Division III for the past 20 years,” he says. “It’s my job to take us to new heights—and that’s a challenge that drives me.”