The Springfield College Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement hosted the seventh annual Sports and Social Justice Symposium on Friday, April 8, 2022, in the Cleveland E. and Phyllis B. Dodge Room in the Flynn Campus Union. The event featured a keynote conversation with Aaron Kelton '91.
Moderated by Springfield College Professor of Communications Marty Dobrow, Kelton returned to his home on Alden Street, and he expressed how Springfield College has had such a lasting impact on his journey.
"Springfield College is home for me, this is a special place, and I enjoyed my time here very much," added Kelton. "It's an honor to come back and be a part of this symposium and what it stands for, and it's rewarding to see the campus committed to improvements in diversity."
A main topic in Kelton's conversation was the importance of increasing the amount of Black coaches in sport, and what institutions and organizations can do to address the issue. Kelton was recently named the head football coach at Savannah State, after serving as Howard University's Director of Football Operations since 2019.
"This topic of finding ways to make sure we have more Black coaches represented is right at the forefront of all coaching circles," added Kelton. "I really do believe that one way to improve this topic is to get more administrators of color, because overall, it's the people at the top making the decisions. It's necessary to have more individuals of color as athletic directors, assistant athletic directors, jobs that have a direct say in the hiring of candidates."
Kelton is a former Springfield College football player who has been coaching football at the collegiate level for more than 20 years. Before Howard University, Kelton was the head coach at Williams College for five years. He was the first African American head football coach in both the New England Small College Athletic Conference and Gulf South Conference.
"We need to keep pushing forward and making progress with diversity in coaching, especially at the smaller colleges level, because there are more colleges at that level," added Kelton. "I am currently working with my peers to make sure we are doing everything we can to improve the amount of Black coaches we have at all levels."
Tom Waddell '59 Leveling the Playing Field Award
Following Kelton’s presentation, Springfield College student-athlete and a member of the Class of 2022, Grace Dzindolet, was recognized with the Tom Waddell Leveling the Playing Field Award. Dzindolet was a four-year member of the women's basketball team, and the sport management major was instrumental in leading efforts to support the LGBTQ community on campus through the national organization Athlete Ally.
"It's an honor to receive this award because it is tied to the legacy of Tom Waddell," added Dzindolet. "I am grateful that Tom Waddell paved the way for student-athletes, and it's an honor to pay tribute to his legacy."
Waddell ’59 is a Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame member who devoted his life to issues of social justice. This annual award goes to a student-athlete who has worked diligently to build a fairer and more just world.
Prior to Kelton's chat with Dobrow, Terry McConnell, local author of Breaking Through the Line: Bobby Marshall, the N.F.L.’s First African American Player, read from his book. Attendees had the opportunity to talk with him about how his book aligns with the symposium topic.
History of Sports and Social Justice Symposium
In 2015, the Sports and Social Justice Symposium was initiated after Springfield College celebrated “Tom Waddell Day," festivities that paid homage to Waddell’s life and commitment to Humanics and diversity.
As part of the celebration in 2015, there was a film tribute featuring Waddell’s famous interview on ABC’s 20/20, a panel discussion led by his contemporaries, and the dedication of a plaque commemorating Waddell’s humanitarian contributions, including the creation of the Gay Games. Delivering the keynote address was Springfield College graduate Rob Kearney '13, G'15, a strongman champion and the first openly gay man to actively compete in his sport at the international level.
Joining Kearney for the festivities were Jeffry Pike, a member of the Federation of the Gay Games, Waddell classmates from the Class of 1959 Jack Savoia, Tom Johnson, Owen Houghton, Springfield College faculty members Mimi Murray'61, G'67, Rick Paar, and the founder of the Springfield College Tom Waddell Fund Phyllis Plotnick.
Waddell, who passed away in 1987, was an outstanding athlete, excelling in track and field, gymnastics, and football as a student at the College. Waddell is best known as the founder of the Gay Games, started in 1982 and held every four years since. The Gay Games welcomes more than 8,000 athletes—regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender identity, religion, sex, ethnic origin, athletic ability, or political beliefs—from 47 countries to compete in an inclusive environment.
Waddell represented the United States in the decathlon in the 1968 summer Olympics, where he placed sixth. He also was an infectious disease specialist and provided medical service for many years in Africa, Asia, and Saudi Arabia, and served in the U.S. Army. He was inducted into the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.
Supported by the Dr. Tom Waddell ’59 Fund. For more information on the fund, or to make a gift, visit springfield.edu/giving.