The Springfield College Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement hosted the sixth annual Sports and Social Justice Symposium on Friday, April 9 featuring Jessica Waddell-Lewinstein Kopp, the daughter of Dr. Tom F. Waddell ’59, arguably the greatest Springfield College athlete, and certainly one of its true giants of social justice. This event was free and open to the public.
Though Waddell died when Jessica was just three, she has taken the torch from both of her remarkable parents—co-founders of the Gay Games—to continue promoting a level playing field for all.
Jessica and Springfield College Communications/Sports Journalism Professor Martin Dobrow engaged in a 45-minute presentation talking about Waddell's impact throughout the world, and talked about Jessica's great memories of her dad and his impact on others, both throughout the globe, and at Springfield College.
"My dad loved Springfield College, so I am very honored to be a part of this great event that highlights the goal of equality for all," said Jessica. "I am looking forward to getting on campus some day, and I really admire the College, especially all of the great work the students are doing on such very important topics."
Following Jessica's presentation, a current Springfield College student-athlete and recent graduate were recognized with the Tom Waddell Level the Playing Field Awards. This annual award goes to a student-athlete who has worked diligently to build a fairer and more just world.
Due to the postponement of last year's event because of the pandemic, both the 2020 and 2021 winners were recognized at this year's ceremony.
Tom Waddell Leveling the Playing Field Award
The 2020 award winner was Class of 2020 graduate and men's track and field student-athlete Chris Tringali. Tringali was an active member of the alternative spring break program during his four years on campus, serving in Haiti for back to back years as part of the program.
The 2021 award winner was current student trustee, communications/sports journalism major, and men's track and field standout Kris Rhim. Rhim is the president of the Men of Excellence club, and leads many social justice and equality initiatives on the campus. Rhim is graduating this May, and will be interning at the Boston Globe this summer.
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.