Walk into Kendall sports complex on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and you might find a group of girls from Holyoke playing tennis, some senior citizens from South Hadley enjoying a "therapy swim" in the College pool, a boys' high school basketball team hard at practice, and a bunch of Mount Holyoke students. Laurie Priest, director of athletics, has been thinking through various ways to open up Kendall to community members in South Hadley and surrounding towns. While the first priority is always making College facilities available for the campus community, Priest says that Mount Holyoke aims to be "a good neighbor" to South Hadley and neighboring areas by sharing facilities whenever possible.
Priest has stepped up efforts to provide the South Hadley, Holyoke, and Belchertown Catholic Youth Organizations with practice time at Kendall. At the same time, she encourages senior community members to feel comfortable using College facilities. Debby Ghezzi, sports complex manager, has found that Sundays are a good day to accommodate most non-College users. Ghezzi also arranges practice time during the week for competitive youth teams like the South Hadley Youth Basketball League and Suburban League Basketball. Other regulars at the College include the South Hadley High School tennis, field hockey, and indoor track teams, the adults' volleyball club, and summer youth soccer in training. "We want to get closer and closer to the community," says Priest.
The Orchards, one of New England's premier golf courses, is also a positive link to the community. The Orchards is owned by the College, managed by a separate board, and has approximately 400 members. Recently, the board of directors agreed to let the South Hadley High School boys' golf team use the top-notch course.
Priest says she has been able to make some valuable admission recruiting contacts in the process of organizing other youth teams to play on College grounds. Coaches from the area now keep in regular contact with the staff at Kendall about important developments in the world of sports competition. Several community members said they were grateful to the College for providing a facility that they might be hard-pressed to find anywhere else within convenient distance.
John Pettengill, president of the South Hadley Recreation in Athletics Association, is very positive about the role Mount Holyoke plays in "spearheading community involvement." He talked about the collaborative effort among Priest, Ghezzi, and his volunteer organization in providing additional resources to the swelling numbers of sports teams in South Hadley's schools. "Recently we have seen a rise in the number of girls playing lacrosse and tennis, whereas previously boys dominated these sports," said Pettengill. He attributes this in large part to the support that Mount Holyoke has shown during the process of expansion and renovation in South Hadley's schools, and the readiness with which Priest and Ghezzi have encouraged local girls' teams.
Pettengill mentioned that community members including Mike Gauthier, director of the South Hadley Recreation Department, and William Whigham, athletic director at South Hadley High School, have worked with him and Mount Holyoke on greater integration between College and town sports facilities. Gauthier and Whigham find that ever since community members began using MHC's facilities, there has been a marked improvement in South Hadley's performance in competitive sports.
Mount Holyoke may make a lasting impression on many young girls who now have access to our sports facilities. For example, bonds have been forged between the College and Girls Inc. of Holyoke, a nonprofit organization that nurtures the growth of teenage girls into confident, self-assured women. "Members of Girls Inc. who show an interest in sports are able to connect with Mount Holyoke players when they come here, and the result is very positive," observes Priest. Pettengill agrees. " I can assure you, firsthand, that young women in the community love the quality facilities, supportive staff, and great staff-student rapport that exists at Mount Holyoke College."