The United States Sports Academy originated on April 22, 1972 but founder Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich began mulling over the concept two decades earlier.
Working with world-class athletes all over Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s as a U.S. Marine Corps track and field coach and as an Ambassador of Sport for the U.S. State Department, he recognized a need for better training and better science for coaches and athletes.
Finally in 1972 while he was an athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dr. Rosandich launched the Academy. The need for a university devoted to sports education became all the more clear with the United States team’s inferior performance at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It was attributed to poor administration, lack of medical support and unscientific coaching and training. The landmark Blythe-Mueller Report released in 1974 further emphasized this. It found that poor preparation by coaches caused an increase in the number and the severity of sports injuries.
Now, 40 years later, the Academy has grown into the largest graduate school of sport education in the world and has created sports programs with more than 65 countries across the globe. Now as then, it is the only freestanding school of sport education in the United States and has been called “America’s Sports University.” The school offers accredited programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.
A 40th Anniversary Celebration is scheduled at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 19 at the Academy’s Daphne, Ala., campus. To mark the occasion, the Academy will award Dr. George Uhlig, one of the six founding members of the institution, a Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to education. In addition, the Academy will unveil the “Mr. Baseball” sculpture by Fairhope, Ala., artist Bruce Larsen, the Academy’s 2009 Sport Artist of the Year.
On the eve of celebrating 40 years of excellence in sport education, Dr. Rosandich, the Academy’s president and CEO, sat down for an interview with The Sport Update to talk about significant developments in the sport institution’s history. Among other things, he discusses the importance of the Olympics and coaching track and field in Southeast Asia to building the Academy’s network, the revelation of the need for scientific coaching and training in sports, and the key to the Academy’s continued success in its mission to prepare men and women for careers in sport.
On the Academy’s connections with the Olympics: “The reason for the Academy’s success is the very network that I’ve built going on 60 years. Serving in the Marine Corps as the All-Marine coach, I had a stable of the greatest athletes in the world, like Bob Mathias, the world-class decathlete; Wes Santee, one of the best milers in the world; and Al Cantello, who held the world record in the javelin. Working with those people opened up a whole new world to me. As we prepare for the London Olympics, it works for us to this day. It is part of the Academy’s network.”
On being hired by the U.S. State Department as an Ambassador of Sport: “When I resigned from the Marine Corps, the U.S. State Department came and got me and made me an Ambassador of Sport. We were trying to spread goodwill through sport. I travelled to 42 countries, starting in the Kingdom of Laos, no less. I was the coach for them, Singapore, Malay—it wasn’t Malaysia back then—North Borneo and Indonesia from the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 to the 1964 Tokyo Games. We had great success. We had one triple jumper from Borneo—Gabuh Piging—who won several medals by jumping more than 50 feet. At the time, no American was jumping that far. Gabuh was from a headhunting tribe. I remember seeing those Long Houses filled with skulls on ridge polls.
“The State Department sent me all over Asia again and again. It helped me develop an international network. All those athletes I had coached grew up and became leaders in their countries in key positions. That’s how we’ve developed the international programs that we have. For example, Mohammed Sarengat, one of my athletes who won the 100 meters and 100-meter hurdles in the 1962 Asian Games, became the Secretary General of the Indonesia Olympic Committee.”
On why Indonesia was a key to the Academy’s development: “The president of Indonesia, Sukarno, who was one of the most powerful people in the world at the time, hired me as their chief national coach. It was during the height of the Cold War between 1961 and 1965 and they had the third largest Communist Party membership. While I was there, I managed to build my first sports academy in Indonesia. That’s why it is a very important key to the United States Sports Academy’s development.
“About 70% of the track coaches in the country came from Eastern Bloc countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. They were the most powerful sports nations in the world at the time. Indonesia hired the coaches in each sport from those nations that had the best results in the Olympics, so the U.S. for track and field, Russia for weightlifting, East Germany for cycling and so on. I soon learned that they knew more about the science of coaching than we Americans did. I put coaches from Eastern Europe on our faculty at the sports academy there. To be very honest, many of the scientific principles of the United States Sports Academy came directly from those people.
“Finally, I convinced President Sukarno to bring in Peace Corps volunteers. I recruited people who were physical education teachers and who had coaching backgrounds, and turned the Peace Corps into what I called the Sports Corps.
“The Eastern Bloc wanted to ‘woo’ Indonesia and therefore invited the track team and R. Maladi, who was the Minister of Youth and Sports, to East Germany. No American was allowed into the country because there were no diplomatic relations between the United States and East Germany. But Maladi said: ‘If Tom can’t come, then we won’t come.’ They assigned me a special visa and allowed me into the country with no passport. I visited one of the most famous sports science schools in the world—the University of Leipzig. From the visit to that school and its programs, I learned many interesting things. It convinced me that we had to build a school like that in the United States.
“I have kept up relations with many of those coaches from those former Communist countries for many years. One of those was Emil Zátopek from Czechoslovakia and known as the “Czech Locomotive.” At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, he ran the 5,000 meters and won it, the 10,000 meters and won it. Incidentally, he had never run a marathon before but ran it and won it. Today, he is a triple gold medal winner and no one has ever done that and no one will ever do it again.”
On the founding of the Board of Trustees and Board of Visitors: “I started laying out a plan for the sports academy and resigned from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on my wife, Sally’s, birthday to build it. I chose five people who all came from UWM. Gerald Hock was the director of auxiliary enterprises. Dr. George Uhlig had an educational background as dean of education and he had headed continuing education at the University of Nebraska. I was there for athletics. Our legal counsel, who worked for the Milwaukee Bucks, was Charles Cape. He wrote the first charter for the Academy. Bob Block was the head of the booster club at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and became the first chairman of our Board of Trustees. He was a consummate marketer.
“I gathered $500 from all five men and used every cent to recruit a National Faculty. They were very impressive. I would call them and tell them or write them about the idea. I didn’t have anyone say, ‘No.’ Our National Faculty was the most distinguished group of sport educators ever assembled under one umbrella, the United States Sports Academy.
“Also, when we were starting the Academy, we selected 32 of the top directors of athletics from Divisions I, II and III and the No. 1 heart surgeon in America, Denton Cooley. We ended up with 33 members advising us. Thirty-three has always been my lucky number.”
On moving the Academy to South Alabama: “We went to six cities all in the south—San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque (N.M.), Houston, New Orleans and Atlanta. Then George Uhlig said, ‘Why don’t you come to South Alabama?’ We got an invitation and we did. I met with University of South Alabama President Dr. Frederick Whiddon and his Board of Trustees. We were very impressed with the people we met. We almost immediately signed a contract with Bahrain and it gave us the financial wherewithal to move forward and become what we are now—the largest graduate school of sport in the world.”
On creating sport programs for Bahrain: “It was the first international contract that we had and really is the basis for the whole development of the Academy. The monies granted us the time to hire faculty and staff and build our academic programs. We brought people into the country in January 1977 to teach sport and we’ve been there ever since. It was the first nation where we built a master plan for sports and built a sports academy, which is a sister academy to our own in Daphne, Ala. We have taken hundreds of people from Bahrain through our sport academic programs.
“Members of our faculty also coached their national team in basketball, track and field, tennis and other sports. We took them to the Asian Games, Arabic Games and the Olympics. In fact, in 1984 we took them to the Los Angeles Olympics in the United States.
“Bahrain participated in its first international competition when I took them to the Asian Games in 1970 in Bangkok, Thailand. They’ve had good success in sports. One of their athletes, Hamada Ahmad, won the gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles in the 1970 Asian Games, setting a new Asian Games record. The 400-meter hurdles is considered to be one of the toughest races in all of track and field. It combines hurdling, speed and endurance. It was a very important event in international competition for their little country in the Arabian Gulf.
“We also developed a physical fitness test in Bahrain using data from Bahrain high school youth to establish standards. It was the first time in the Middle East that such fitness standards were created based on their own population, instead of using data from American youth. We ended up developing physical fitness standards in 22 other Asian nations.”
On His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain: “He was fantastic. We just became in Arabic, ‘siddik,’ which just means good friend. When I first met him, he was the Crown Prince and commander of the defense forces. I’ve met a lot of good people and they all have one thing in common. They are all nice people and they are all salt of the earth. I’ve had great conversations with (former Philippine President Ferdinand) Marcos and (former United States President Ronald) Reagan. I’ve had in-depth talks that I’m thankful for with (the late International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio) Samaranch. I’ve sat in the desert and ate goat with the King of Bahrain. He is like a brother to me. Truly, the higher people are the nicer they seem to be.”
On the Academy’s academic programs being 100% online: “We used technology early on. Our commitment to technology is never ending. My concern right now is technology is moving so fast, how do you keep up with it? For 10 years, we tracked our online students and residential students at our school. Online students consistently had higher test scores, so that’s why we made the decision to go totally online.”
On his wife, Sally Rosandich, the founding Executive Secretary to the Board of Trustees: “I tell everyone that this Academy would not be in existence without Sally. She is smart and she is a thinker. She still proofreads everything that gets printed.”
On the Academy’s future: “I’m asked about this all the time. At the end of every summer school, I used to have a dog and pony show. I would tell the students who were on campus then to go back into the room and I would give them a final test. I told them to relax because no one was going to flunk it. I would go down the rows and ask them things like if they played sports and what was their major. Then I would go down the rows again and ask: ‘What are the reasons you came to the Academy?’
“This was my informal survey but it was the best survey we ever had. The single best changes we’ve made have come from our students. One reason the Academy has gotten to where it is is because we listen to our students. We’ve gotten the best recommendations from them over the years. Because of our students, we changed our whole curriculum from quarter credit hours to semester credit hours and have added dual majors. When we started out there was nothing out there really like us. Now, there are more than 400 schools with sports degrees. I really want to do what we do but I want to do it better. I never stop looking for better ways to do what we do.”