This month, Derek Hottell becomes SU’s new director of recreational sports, succeeding Mark Williams, who left SU to take a position at Loyola University Chicago. Hottell is no stranger to SU, having served for the past 2½ years as assistant director of recreational sports.
He says it was serendipity that led him to a career in recreational sports. “I was going to be a high school English teacher and coach basketball,” he remembers. This is until he found himself in need of gainful employment while attending Western Kentucky University. He took a work-study job as a ref, officiating intramural games and, from there, steadily worked his way up the ladder. Hottell is a native of Guston, Ky., just west of Louisville and a couple minutes away from Ekron, the birthplace of Pee Wee Reese. On a recent afternoon between meetings, Hottell sat down with The Commons to talk about his new role, where he sees Rec Sports heading and much more.
The Commons: As you move from assistant director to director, how will your role change?
Derek Hottell: If you think about it like a restaurant, the director is the guy in the front of the restaurant, meeting with everybody, talking with everybody; whereas the assistant director is more akin to being the kitchen manager—making sure the orders get out on time, that the food’s ready and it’s done a certain way. So that’s really the transition: Going from being the person who’s making sure the day-to-day things are being done to making sure the other people can do their jobs and have the resources they need to be successful. The heavy lifting is done by the coordinators and assistant directors who run the different programs we have.
The Commons: Will you miss the heavy lifting?
DH: Yes, honestly, there will be a part of me that will miss the day-to-day operational activities, working that closely with the students, having that responsibility and at the end of the day having that set task that you went through and accomplished. With the director, it’s much more long term. You play a part in those things, but you have less of a day-to-day responsibility.
The Commons: On the flip side, what are you looking forward to most about your new role?
DH: What’s great about it is you get to work with all the areas of Rec Sports. Before, when I was assistant director, I did facilities—I ran the facilities and the pool, and I didn’t get to really do any programming. Now that I’m in the director’s role, I get to work more on programming. It’ll be nice to work with the coordinators and provide services and programs for students.
The Commons: Why’d you decide to come to SU?
DH: What attracted me to the universitywas its commitment to holistic education. If you’re someone who works in recreation, which is all about the importance of the physical being, fitness, what exercise and sport can do for you spiritually, emotionally and mentally, and its role in connecting you with others, well, holistic education’s going to resonate with you.
The Commons: How familiar were you with Jesuit education when you got to SU?
DH: I grew up Catholic, but I didn’t know about the Jesuits, specifically, before I came here. But when I learned about the Jesuit ethos of social justice, and meeting people where they’re at, helping those most in need…those are all things that resonate with me.
I just came from a meeting on the Youth Initiative. We’re revising our rental policy so that if you’re a group that’s serving students from the Bailey Gatzert area, you get priority in renting facility space from us. I love the Youth Initiative and the university’s commitment to service learning. There’s an element of care at this university that you don’t see at too many other places.
The Commons: What role does recreational sports have in the lives of students as well as faculty and staff?
DH: It doesa couple of things. One of the biggest things it does is relieve stress. When people are stressed, they cope in many ways, some that aren’t healthy, some that aren’t productive, but usually what people don’t do is exercise. Exercise can help to alleviate stress, which allows people to perform better.
The other thing that a recreational sport does is it forces people to be together, who otherwise would not be together. Recreational sports allows students to interact with faculty and staff outside of a formal setting through participation in intramural sports, sport clubs, outdoor adventure recreation, or fitness programs. A student might see a professor on an elliptical next to them. I play flag football. Not well, but I play. There’s also a group of student development professionals that all play intramural basketball. We didn’t win a single game, but it’s a chance for students to say, “Oh, I can connect with that person. We do have a common interest.” One of the biggest reasons students don’t stay in school is because they don’t have a sense of belonging with others or the institution. If they can connect with someone, they persist at the institution.
And the last thing you hope recreational sports does on a college campus is reinforce the need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There’s been lots of research done that shows that students who participate in athletics, by and large, are healthy throughout high school, but in college they lose the behavior, and if they lose the behavior in college, they never regain it. And so, hopefully what we’re doing, along with the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, is helping to convey the message that exercise is important for a well-balanced life and providing avenues to do it.
The Commons: Where would you like to see Rec Sports in, say, five, ten years out?
DH: Well, I think we’ve laid a great foundation, Mark Williams has laid a great foundation. And there’s clearly a commitment to recreation here on campus. They’re going to start building the new fitness center. Last year a new position of Outdoor Adventure Recreation Coordinator was created. What I’d like to see in the future is that commitment continuing to go in that same direction. I think over time, you’re going to see the facilities improve—the fitness center coming online is going to be huge—you’re going to see more programs, I think you’re going to start to see more and more students come to this university because of recreational sports and because of the opportunities available to them. I think being in Division I, you’re also going to see a transition. If you’re someone who loves sports and you’re interested in sports, you want that to be part of your collective collegial experience. The flip side is that you also want that to be part of your day-to-day experience—you want to be able to participate, which is the role recreational sports plays. So, I think as you see all these things happen, you’re going to see more interest in recreational sports.
The Commons: What kind of difference do you see the fitness center making in how this university community recreates?
DH: The biggest thing is it doubles the size of the weight room and the cardio area. It also provides more group exercise space, which is huge for our Leisure Education Program. People who don’t use the Connolly Center now because they may have another gym or facility—they will use the fitness center because it will be the nicest facility in the area…by far. It’s going to be nicer than the old gym, it’s going to have natural light, it’s going to be large, it’s going to have lots of equipment. So people who otherwise might not come, will. It’s a recruiting tool for students and faculty and staff. (All faculty and staff and their LDAs get free membership.) It shows the university’s commitment to a balanced lifestyle and the holistic education of students.
The Commons: Is there anything about Rec Sports that faculty and staff might not realize?
DH: I think most people probably don’t realize that Recreational Sports is not the Connolly Center. The Connolly Center is part of Recreational Sports. Recreational Sports is inclusive of lots of different areas. Yes, it’s the Connolly Center, and yes, it’s the pools, but it’s also the Outdoor Adventure Recreation program, it’s going on trips, it’s having gear rentals, it’s fitness programming, it’s intramural sports and sport clubs. It’s all those things.
The Commons: What do you like to do in your spare time?
DH: I’m pretty boring, to be honest with you.I read. I watch a lot of sports, as you might guess. I hang out with my wife. We’ve only been here three years, but almost every weekend we do something touristy. I think we’ve checked out every one of those “top ten things to do in Seattle” books.
The Commons: What are you reading these days? And what’s a book you’ve recently read that you’d recommend?
DH: A book I just read was Water for Elephants. A book I’d recommend is Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It’s set in Seattle so you get to follow the landmarks and the places you know.
The Commons: Anything else?
DH: You asked me earlier about my hope for the future. It would really be for the new fitness center and the Connolly Center to be referred to as a hub of campus, so if someone came up to you and asked you where they could find students having fun, you would say, “Go to the Connolly Center and fitness center.”