By Samantha Small
To some students’ surprise, one of Virginia Wesleyan’s most well-known faces and the most tenured professor, Dr. Larry Hultgren, was inducted among five other alumni student-athletes into the Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday Feb. 13.
Hultgren was inducted for his endless contributions and dedication to the athletics program at VWC and became only the second non-student-athlete to be inducted.
“Dr. Hultgren has been such a big part of our VWC community for the better part of 50 years. I’m so happy he was inducted into our Hall of Fame. Not sure anyone deserves it more,” Head Men’s Basketball Coach Dave Macedo said.
“He’s given tirelessly to not only the academic side but the athletic side, and he really is the face of Virginia Wesleyan on a lot of levels…[he] was a no-brainer to go in the Hall of Fame… he was a unanimous decision,” Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Joanne Renn said.
Hultgren came to Virginia Wesleyan with his wife in the fall of 1969 and immediately began helping out Don Forsyth and the athletics program in any way he could, including helping coach teams, run practices and drive vans. The school was just starting out and much smaller than it is now.
“She [his wife] was literally the sociology/anthropology department. I was literally the philosophy department,” Hultgren said.
Hultgren worked at VWC when most athletic facilities did not exist on campus, but the family environment was still very much the same.
“We had no gym on campus… we had one basketball court. Actually one basketball net. And that was in the parking lot… there wasn’t even any basketball on campus,” Hultgren said.
In the beginning, Hultgren worked as the chairman of the athletics committee. He followed the growth of athletics on campus through the Old Dixie Athletic Conference to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC). When the NCAA instituted their official program of faculty athletic representatives, his job transitioned to become VWC’s first NCAA faculty athletic representative, and he served in that role ever since.
“The faculty athletic representative at the DIII level is really important for us as a liaison between the athletic department and the faculty side of the house. What Dr. Hultgren has been able to do is knit all of that together. He’s a patient guy. He sees all different sides. He understands all sides,” Renn said.
Hultgren also currently assists Renn with candidate searches for head coaches, assistant coaches, staff people and athletic trainers.
“He’s just a calming influence on all of us and his approach is always the same. You know what you’re going to get with Dr. Hultgren and that is an approach you can understand,” Renn said.
Hultgren’s philosophy and motivation centers on the idea of educating the whole person.
“I’ve always been a strong proponent of viewing learning as something that goes on not just in the classroom but outside of the classroom… so if you’re involved in athletics or maybe involved in theatre or sororities, clubs and activities, I think that is all part of learning while you’re at a small liberal arts college,” Hultgren said. “I’m glad people seem to think I’ve brought some attention to that and think that’s important.”
The culture of the student-athlete is also important to Hultgren and is his main motivation for his dedication to athletics.
“I think part of our job is to make sure we see that there’s always a hyphen. There’s never an either/or,” Hultgren said.
Coach Macedo said Hultgren finds the good in everyone and makes everyone better.
“He embodies all that is right with college athletics. His character, relationships and unwavering support mean so much to us all. Our faculty, staff and students are so lucky to have a role model that we can learn from,” Macedo said.
Hultgren was recently named to the President’s Committee for Athletics to help keep the goals of the classroom and the goals of athletic competition in line.
“You’ve got the voice of the classroom, the voice of the athletic field, the student voice and the voice of college leadership,” Hultgren said.
Whereas Hultgren was always interested and invested in athletics, he focused on the library and intramural sports in college.
“All my injuries were papercuts from the library,” Hultgren said.
Renn said she wants Hultgren to be proud of the athletic department and student-athletes. “I stress to all the athletes about you know you’re not only playing for yourself, you’re not only playing for your family, but you’re playing for the people that mean something to you here at VWC. And I think Dr. Hultgren means a lot to a lot of people here,” she said.
Hultgren’s nomination and eventual induction came as a surprise to him. When he was on the original Hall of Fame committee, the committee drafter rules to say a person who is on the athletic hall of fame committee could not nominate his or herself or be nominated by the committee. Evidently, the committee decided to remove Hultgren from his position on the committee unbeknownst to Hultgren in order to nominate and induct him.
“I kind of kept it from him. He probably didn’t appreciate that too much, but he was a good sport about it,” Renn said.
“So this last fall, I was waiting for the committee to meet and was waiting to hear from Joanne Renn about a meeting date to work on this year’s induction. I never heard anything. Finally Joanne came to me, and I thought she was going to tell me about the meeting, and instead she congratulated me about being inducted,” Hultgren said.
Many people said they were surprised and delighted to hear of Hultgren’s induction.
“A lot of people have asked me about the induction, and I sort of jokingly tell them, ‘Well I survived,’ or I tell them I was much taller when I came here back in whatever century that was,” Hultgren said.
Hultgren is not only a liaison for athletics, but also a friend to many in the department. Renn said she counts Hultgren and his wife as dear friends and awesome people.
“I value his friendship and am lucky to have him steering me the right way doing the official book at our home games,” Macedo said.
After his many years of dedication here at VWC, Hultgren still insists he only plays a small part in the large picture of success and education.
“It takes a village and it’s just great to be a part of the village,” Hultgren said.
The emphasis Hultgren places on the hyphen in the term “student-athlete” sets the tone for the culture of athletics and education as a whole on campus. He said the people are the reason why he has survived here for so long.
“The students are the reason I’ve thrived here, and to be honored for being part of that is pretty special,” Hultgren said.