In 1974, when I was President of FOX Sports, I was also involved with Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe on the president’s Council of Physical Fitness. The great NFL coach George Allen was our chairman and he had a dream, which we shared, of building a Sports Academy in California. George never realized that dream. However, my friend and mentor Bob Block, a founder and the first chairman of the United States Sports Academy, introduced me to a true sports visionary, Dr. Tom Rosandich, who did get the Academy built.
Located outside of Mobile, Alabama, it is a bastion of all that is good in sports. It is an academic Mecca! It does not train athletes to become better at their chosen sport. Instead, the USSA trains sports leaders. Sitting on its board is a legendary group of men who have been athletic directors, coaches and academicians from America’s top universities.
I feel it is very important for me to write this story at this time. All around us we are seeing the bastardization of what it means to get an education. Unscrupulous agents pay monies under the table to induce young men to play athletically for various schools while coaches and athletic directors pretend to be oblivious to what is going on around them.
True, I am of the opinion that to get a scholarship and enjoy an education is an award well earned. It should be enough! However, I also believe that many young men from impoverished families should receive a legitimate stipend over and above their sometimes all too-meager scholarships. This fee would be for services rendered in helping the school fill their stadia and fielding a winning team. A team, which in turn directly relates to alumni gifts and monetary awards based on pride.
However, like so many other Sports fans, I am appalled at what is going on.
Then there is the USSA standing tall amidst all the chaos. Under Dr. Rosandich’s leadership and guidance, they have stayed true to their mission statement for almost 40 years.
When the five men first founded the Academy in 1972 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (they originally were the Board of Directors — today, they comprise the Board of Trustees), they set out to achieve the following goal: They wished to become an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university that would serve the nation and the world with programs in instruction, research, and service. They have achieved this and more. Today, it is the world’s foremost sports university. It is an American original!
Since the Academy’s inception they have awarded many Bachelor, Master’s and Doctoral degrees. Where there were none before, sports-specific courses are now part of the curricula in over 200 accredited American colleges and universities. Academy graduates, like religious missionaries, have spread the word.
The courses taught range from Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Sports Science, to Doctorates of Education in Sports Management, Sports Coaching, or Sports Studies. No facet of the Sports environment is left unattended. Sports Fitness and Health, Sports Medicine and Sports Psychology round out the available curricula. Also, among the courses taught are NCAA Compliance, Olympism and Personal Training.
It is interesting to note that the five founders who banded together at Milwaukee in 1972 were spurred on by the disastrous showing of the American team at the tragic Munich Games just weeks earlier. They looked around and saw that the powerhouse nations of the Eastern Bloc all had national sports academies and were turning out gold medal winners by the carload. Something had to be done and they did it.
With old-fashioned American ingenuity and without government funding they set about making their dream a reality. They started in a single office donated by Dr Block. Today, the academy occupies countless acres and its graduates hold many important positions in not only academia, but also in the worlds of amateur, collegiate and professional sports. They represent all that is good about athletics.
A visit to the Academy means the visitor will see a Walk of Fame featuring legendary sports figures, as well as the world’s greatest gallery of sports art. A 40-foot mural of Jackie Robinson hangs in a place of honor and is one of the many highlights. The academy is also the home for the world’s most complete sports sculpture garden.
Americans know well the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; N.Y. Many have visited Springfield, MA and the birthplace of Basketball. Still others make pilgrimages to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. All these trips are great, but in order to be a complete fan, the USSA in Daphne, Alabama, just outside of Mobile should be a “must see.”
We all know and admire Annapolis, West Point and the United States Air Force Academy. Now, we should add the United States Sports Academy to the list. It is an American Academy institute of higher learning.
Among the many things the academy does is to give awards in countless area of Sports. For example, one of the recipients of the Art Award is LeRoy Neiman. Among the awards, one is named for a former sportscaster named “Dutch” Reagan who became the 40th President of the United States. The “Ronald Reagan Media Award” was among the things that gave the late President the utmost pleasure in bestowing. High among that lists that gratified him was the one he gave to his friend Vin Scully, the venerated and revered voice of the Dodgers.
So, when you next visit the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA, think about putting the USSA on your list of places to visit.
For more than 60 years, Shelly Saltman has been a force in sports journalism, starting as a high school play-by-play announcer to eventually becoming the President of FOX Sports. He has worked in 52 countries as an event producer, TV show creator, author, lecturer, and a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. The recipient of numerous industry and education awards, he was a team executive at the highest level and in on the founding of three professional league in three different sports. He represented the NFLPA during the 1981-82 strike and he counts Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, and Tommy Hearns among his closest associates.