Rod Lovett talks Parkland success
Fall is turning into winter, and with the changing leaves has come unprecedented success for Cobra athletics. Men’s and women’s soccer, golf and volleyball have, for the first time in Parkland history, simultaneously held the Mid West Athletic Conference (MWAC) championship in all four fall sports.
Presiding over the success has been Parkland College Athletic Director Rod Lovett, who has been with the program for the past fifteen years. Today, he’s at the office, taking care of business with the NJCAA, with whom he also sits on the board as the Region 24 men’s director. Thankfully, he’s found some time to reflect on the success at Parkland with the Prospectus.
You have all four sports with fall seasons taking home championships. Was that a possibility in your mind, going into the season?
We always hope that’s a possibility going into the season. One of the things we tell our recruits in summer orientations is everyone here has a chance to win their conference and make a run at nationals. We’ve been really proud to have that kind of diversity in our programs. You never know in two-year athletics. One year you can be really, really good, then lose everyone and be really, really bad the next year. That said, every one of the coaches was feeling good at the start, but again, you never know.
Success like this then is pretty extraordinary. Where does your contribution come in?
Guidance and support is my biggest thing. One thing you have to understand: these coaches are part time. They all have other duties and full time jobs. I’m here to help them shuffle and deal with all that stuff. We really take advantage of text and email, because that might be the only way we can get a hold of them, so that’s really improved things over the past 10 years. We can now assist them easier when recruits are here and get them information they might need. I also make sure to be there supporting the teams. I’m at probably 90 percent of the home games or making it out to the golf tournaments, letting the students know the department is behind them and supporting them.
As well as that support, are you trying to impart your vision on the program as a whole, or do you leave it up to your coaching hires to succeed and bring the “Parkland brand” to their squads?
A little bit of both. We have a summer orientation program, and we talk very strongly about being a “student athlete.” Yes, we have some athletes make it professional or to a Division I scholarship, but at the end, most of these kids aren’t making money off this. You’re here to get an education. For me, a kid playing two years here and has a positive experience, has a lot of fun, but at the end saying, “Hey, I want to be a business major, and I got into the U of I, so I am not going to play anymore and that’s O.K.” The same goes for someone who sees they can’t play at a D-I school, but might have an opportunity to play at a smaller school and still get a good education. Both of those things are great.
Is academics the only off field characteristic you expect the coaches to be pushing on their athletes?
All of our coaches, we tell them, “we are a community college”, so we stress being part of a community. We want them involved in at least one significant outreach in the community and they do a great job of involving the kids in volunteering. When we’re looking for athletes, we obviously want good players and students, but also ones who are ready to be active in the community.
When you’re looking for these “Parkland type” athletes, if someone isn’t an obvious fit for the culture, are they automatically excluded?
Not necessarily. We might get some kids, who have some little things, like say a drinking ticket or minor arrest in high school, and you have to look at it knowing everyone makes stupid mistakes at that age. It all comes back to us being a community college, and community college is frequently about second chances for people, so we understand we might have to guide those students a little more. We hope that we can bring a good mix of kids who are already successful so they can help lead. Having that dynamic makes everyone more successful in the long run.
Finally, while obviously the winning is a reward, what do you feel like is biggest takeaway for you that has kept you here for so long?
Good question! (laughing). I really do believe in what Parkland stands for. It’s a great place for people to get started. It gives people a chance to get used to what they might want from life. While we have some people playing professionally, you also get to see all the kids who were naive, eighteen year olds, turning into doctors, lawyers, farmers, and having their own families. Even right now, we have athletes who had parents playing here when I first started. While that makes me feel old, it speaks a lot about our program, that they want their kids sharing an experience they had. We also have coaches who played here. That’s a great reward, getting to see people who you made a difference for, coming back and wanting to do the same.