In the Locker Room: Joe Karlgaard
In this week’s In the Locker Room, Sarah Heaton sat down with Joe Karlgaard, Oberlin’s Athletic Director. After taking care of the “nuts and bolts” last year, Karlgaard has settled down to improve the athletic department. Despite the fire in the gymnasium, it’s been business as usual for Karlgaard, meeting with students, attending games and working diligently to get the tedious NCAA paperwork in. He was able to take a break and discuss the latest on the sauna incident, “fearless,” Oberlin basketball and, despite being a Stanford graduate, his preference of Ohio State over Michigan.
Sarah Heaton: So we are “In the AD’s Office” instead of “In the Locker Room” this week because of the fire?
Joe Karlgaard: Yeah, there is no locker room right now. I still don’t think there’s an official, meaning a published, cause of the fire. So, I can’t speculate on what actually caused it.
SH: And the construction? How’s it going? Is there a timeline yet?
JK: (Laughing) Oh no, nothing is decided. There are lots of options on the table right now for us as to what we’re going to do with that space. We know that we need to serve all of the gym’s constituents, meaning students, faculty, staff and community members. We want to distribute the space equitably or at least, more equitably than we have in the past.
SH: Will there be a sauna?
JK: (Laughing) Wow. I don’t know.
SH: So this is your first year as the official Delta Lodge Athletic Director. Has it been much of a transition?
JK: Last year felt more like I was just trying to hold things together. I was working under someone else’s model, making sure that we were submitting all of the NCAA paperwork that we needed submitted on time, making sure that we didn’t overspend our budgets, making sure that we had buses and equipment. The focus of my work last year was really nuts and bolts and operations management.
This year, I was able to hire an Associate AD [Kiki Jacobs] who handles those things and I get to work on more of the big picture things. I talk with alumni, students and nearly all of the senior student athletes. I’m focused now on gathering input and suggestions from people about how we can make our varsity programs better and how we can work to achieve more wellness on campus.
SH: Is the Athletic Department thinking of launching a wellness campaign, which would involve other departments?
JK: A wellness campaign would have to be interdisciplinary. “Wellness” means different things to different people, and we can work with all of these definitions to create a healthier student body and healthier faculty and staff. It’s not a “one-size fits all” approach, so we have to think broadly about the programs and resources we want to offer because we want to attract a variety of students and community members. Ultimately, I think that that’s got to be the vision of this department: Narrowing the focus of the Athletic Department would keep some important people out of the puzzle.
I talk to students all the time who don’t want to come to Phillips Gym. They don’t like the building, or they are intimidated by the weight room, or they just don’t see this as an inviting place. I think we need to change that, so we need to offer things that would make students more interested in coming to the gym. For example, offering drop-in pilates or yoga classes two or three times a week would satisfy more people than we are currently satisfying. If we are better at our recreational wellness offerings, I think it trickles down to intramurals, club and varsity sports and PE classes.
SH: Perhaps Oberlin will be a place of “fearless” wellness?
JK: I know there has been student dissent over the fearless campaign, but I liked it when I heard it. Certainly “fearless” has a lot of resonance from an athletics standpoint. Competing without fear helps generate athletic success. Aside from that, I think it’s a good thing for this campus because when you think about phobias and -isms of this world, they are all rooted in fear. And I like the idea that Oberlin is a place where people can operate and exist without being fearful of who they are and without being fearful of what they say. I think fearless is a good adjective for all of Oberlin’s communities.
SH: Okay, to less serious subjects… Michigan or Ohio State?
JK: Ohio State…Come on.
SH: Testing your commitment to wellness this time…Pizza or granola?
JK: Hmmmm…I’d still go with granola.
SH: Men’s or women’s basketball?
JK: (Laughing) Oh come on now! They both look great. The women finally have a deep bench, so it looks like a different team, and the intensity is much higher. The men’s team seems to be playing with great focus and discipline and hustle. The Wabash game was great. [Senior] Quentin [Spencer] hit a shot with four seconds left to win the game. Both men’s and women’s basketball are looking ahead to great seasons.