Spartans have new commander

JP O'Hagan, Sports Editor

Last Friday athletics announced that Yale’s Amy Backus was named Case Western Reserve University’s newest athletic director. She will be the first woman ever in the position.
Backus, an Ohio native will officially be starting her new position over the summer, taking the reigns from current interim athletic director, Pat Kennedy. She will be the new leader of Case’s 19 varsity sports, 14 club sports and 35 intramural activities. In addition her position oversees the required physical education classes that each student is required to take.
Finally Backus will be in charge of overseeing the coaching and staff members and of course oversees the athletic facilities, like Veale Center, Horsburgh Gymnasium, Veale Natatorium, DiSanto Field, Mather Park, Nobby’s Ballpark and the new Wyant Athletic and Wellness Center which is being built next to the village.

Backus comes to Case after over thirty years of work in collegiate athletics. She began her sporting career as a star basketball player at Vermilion High School here in Ohio. She began coaching at her college alma mater, Central Michigan University.

After graduation, Backus spent a year as a CMU assistant coach before scoring her first head coach position at Otterbein College. She went on to coach at Middlebury College and Northwestern University heading to Yale. While at Yale, she has served as chair of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee and is a member of both the NCAA Division I Academic Performance Advisory Group and its Legislative Council. Beyond athletics Backus is focused on the students as she serves on Yale’s Safety Net Committee, a group of staff and student leaders dedicated to supporting health and safety on campus.

With so much experience Backus is able to understand the inner workings of any athletic department and will use that experience to tailor a great program to Case. “I have been fortunate to have experiences in both Division I and Division III athletics as a student-athlete, coach and administrator thus allowing me to bring perspective from a so many different angles,” said Backus. “My work on national NCAA committees has broadened that perspective to have a pulse on what is happening in collegiate athletics in general. In particular, my work in the Ivy League which believes in the academic priority of student athletes will serve me well in my position at CWRU and the UAA because of this important shared philosophy.”

As all the women of campus, know the female athletes here at Case compete at just as a high (if not higher) level than their male counterparts. As the first female athletic director Backus will add to that half of the sports culture and an a feminine touch to the boys club that is commonly thought to be athletics, whether here at Case or elsewhere.

Backus began her career at the beginning of athletic gender equality when Title IX was a new experiment in the country. She has came up working in this “Women are drawing on what is unique in their socialization as women and creating a different way to manage organizations. Some may see these as nontraditional leadership traits but with clearly stated goals and a clear policy of expectations; high quality work and success will follow,” said Backus. “I am very fortunate to be able to draw on examples of successful female leadership early in my career. Those examples, which of course are gender blind, are integrity, vision, loyalty and a strong work ethic.”

Backus has a great long term vision for the university’s athletic community, and will attempt to stray from the at times sad state of Cleveland sports. By continuing to recruit strong student athletes and put together capable coaching staffs Backus hopes to make CWRU competitive across the board. “My vision is to put CWRU athletic teams in a position to be contenders in the conference in every sport on a consistent basis year in and year out,” said Backus. “Recruiting the “best and brightest” student athletes from around the country to wear the Spartan uniform is an expectation of mine.“

The mission for Backus is two fold however. In addition to simply competing in the highly competitive conference that is the UAA, she hopes to push the ideals of the university through the activities of the athletic department. Athletics goes beyond the varsity sports however and Backus knows this as well. “The teams will continue to represent the university with integrity and good sportsmanship. I would like to be sure that we are meeting the interests of the entire campus for opportunities to stay fit and recreate or compete at all different levels. It is essential to build upon good community support from all of the student organizations across campus as well as an inspired community between teams.”

Even though Case is an academically focused university, Backus’ background at Yale was very similar. She understands the cultural difference that can occur on a campus like Case. “Everyone at a place like Yale and CWRU brings something to the table that they are passionate about. Striving to be excellent in that passion is not a bad thing. There will always be people who support athletics and those that don’t. I want to tell the story of those striving to be the best in athletics to anyone who will listen. Student athletes connecting with other students and supporting their endeavors has helped to close that cultural gap.” This knowledge will serve Backus extremely well as director.

Sports have obviously been a huge part of Backus’ life and she enjoys them all. She played and coached basketball but her real passion is actually sailboat racing, a lifelong passion of hers since she started sailing as a young girl. “This is also the safest answer since ALL of the CWRU sports will be my favorite!” Backus joked. However the draw of sports goes beyond what is fun and enjoyable. “I can think of no other activity that compares to the level of human emotion on a last second winning shot, score, run, kill, poolside touch, whatever the sport. I live for those moments and when it is done in the name of the institution you are representing as a student-athlete, the moment is even more special,” said Backus.

Case has a long tradition and sports, believe it or not, is a big part of that tradition. Backus realizes that sports is for the fans. “The tradition, the protocol, the fanfare and the anticipation of the outcome, For the participants there are so many aspects, the long training and conditioning required to be excellent, the striving for a common goal with people who are some of your very best lifelong friends,” said Backus. “I could already feel the excitement of what is happening on campus in general and I would like athletics to be a major contributor in that direction as well.”

Backus is obviously very excited to be a part of our community here at Case Western. Her focus is on the students here at Case, not only on varsity athletes but also working with the club sports, the intramural teams, and briefly even with every student as they complete their physical education requirements. “My door will be open to dialogue and discovery as I learn the unique culture of the community at CWRU,” said Backus.