Melinda Larson, a former student athlete, instructor and head athletic trainer for Whitworth, has become the interim athletic director for the 2013-14 academic year. Larson grew up in Northern Idaho, where she attended Moscow High School. After graduating, Larson attended Eastern Washington University, where she played basketball and aspired to be an athletic trainer.
“To be an athletic trainer, you have to do a big internship with a lot of hours and it was really tough to do while playing basketball,” Larson said.
A friend of Larson’s, who played basketball for Whitworth, invited her to come watch a game. At Whitworth, she talked with the academic department about playing a varsity sport while being an athletic training student. The department told her she could pursue both her interest in playing basketball, as well as athletic training while attending Whitworth. As a result, Larson made the decision to become a Pirate and transferred to Whitworth her junior year.
During her time as a Whitworth athlete, Larson played basketball alongside Tara Flugel, who holds the record as the all-time leading scorer at Whitworth for both men and women.
In 1994, Larson attended graduate school and earned her Master of Science in health education from Florida International University. She later worked as an assistant athletic trainer in Alabama but returned to Whitworth in 1995 to work as an assistant athletic trainer and instructor.
“I did a little bit of academic administration for awhile,” Larson said. “I thought to myself ‘I could do this’ but it wasn’t really lighting my fire so when our previous athletic director came, I mentioned to him that I was interested and would love to help out whenever I could.”
Former Athletic Director Aaron Leetch established a leadership team, which included Larson, and she was given the opportunity to experience the role of an athletic director.
“That was my first step into athletic directing,” Larson said.
This year, Larson was planning on being officially assigned more athletic administration duties by the former athletic director, but when Leetch decided to return to Illinois State University, Larson’s plan was accelerated when Whitworth President Beck Taylor announced that Larson would be the new interim director of athletics.
“The athletic director needs to be somebody who is a good administer; someone who watches out for the welfare of students and the coaches, has a calm demeanor, can develop good relationships with alumni and donors and have a vision for the department,” said Jo Wagstaff, assistant athletic director and women’s tennis coach. “Melinda fits that description. She is embracing the tasks and is very eager to learn.”
Larson led the Pirates’ award-winning sports medicine department and also brought her expertise to the classroom as an associate professor of health science at Whitworth.
“She has taught hard courses here and is able to integrate athletics with education, which gives her a huge advantage being the new director,” said Cheree Sauer, visiting instructor of health sciences and assistant athletics trainer. “She’ll get more respect from the education department for athletics and vice versa.”
Larson is excited to take on the role as the new athletic director and is especially looking forward to watching all of the sporting events.
“The first Saturday we had a football game I was down standing on the track during warm-ups and I said to the guy standing next to me, ‘you better watch out I could tackle you right now. I’m so excited I think I could play football today,” Larson said. “I love to see our student athletes out there competing, having fun and enjoying each other. It’s fun talking to student athletes on the sidelines and meeting with coaches. We have such a neat atmosphere.”
Larson is enthusiastic about Whitworth sports.
“She loves the school, she loves the student athletes and she has a chance to develop her leadership skills in her new role,” said Steve Flegel, assistant athletic director and head of sports information. “Mel is a great fit.”
Larson has big plans for Whitworth Athletics and her passion and love for her alma mater will put the Bucs on the road to success.
“I would say my vision for the department and the student athletes is to have a passionate pursuit of excellence; academically, athletically, fully developed in faith,“ Larson said. “It’s a bit of a three-pronged approach but really it’s academics, athletics and the faith covers all of it. We want to be not only conference champions but nationally ranked as well.”
Jordanne Perry Staff Writer
Contact Jordanne Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org