Gary Walters ’67 remembers the spring day in 1963 when he walked into his 12th-grade American-democracy class and saw the maps pulled down over the blackboards. The class braced for a pop quiz, but the teacher, Pete Carril (yes, that Pete Carril), announced instead that he had good news. Releasing the maps one by one, he revealed a message scrawled in chalk:
“Gary ... Walters ... has ... been ... admitted ... to Princeton.”
Getting in, Walters says, was the start of a “transformative experience” and a deep connection to Princeton. Last month, 50 years after he arrived as a student, the kid from Reading (Pa.) High announced that he’ll be leaving the University — stepping down as the director of athletics at the end of the academic year, his 20th in the job.
Walters made a name for himself as a point guard for two Ivy League basketball champions, including the 1965 Final Four team, and served as an assistant coach to Carril in the early 1970s, but his legacy was forged in his current job. Since he returned to campus in 1994, Princeton teams have averaged 11 Ivy championships per year and collected 48 national team or individual titles.
In that span, Walters has been his department’s chief executive and its greatest advocate. He speaks of “education through athletics” and “the sweatiest of the liberal arts” with genuine zeal. He takes pride in on-field successes but puts more emphasis on his off-field additions, including the Academic-Athletic Fellows program, which connects faculty and staff with student-athletes, and the Princeton Varsity Club, which has shored up financial support for the University’s 38 teams.
Walters’ enthusiasm, however, does not extend to the broader world of college sports. He is irked by conferences that, in the race for TV ratings and revenue, have expanded to other regions of the country, necessitating more travel and pulling student-athletes away from the classroom. Intensive off-season training also hurts the student experience, in his view. The Ivies allow 12 days of off-season practice, while most other schools use the NCAA maximum of 48. With that extra workload, full athletic scholarships have become a form of “indentured servitude,” he says.
“The coach owns you,” Walters says. “You aren’t able to participate in the life of the college under those circumstances. You are there to fulfill your athletic potential, period.”
Walters isn’t worried about the Ivy League’s ability to stand apart, now or in the future. But simply making its own rules is not enough, he says: “We need to be more outspoken, as a league, about our model, because it’s the proper way to do things.”
If the league office would like an ambassador, there’s an excellent candidate in the corner office at Jadwin Gym. He’ll be there for nine more months.