Greetings, Lion fans! Today on The Wire, we have a chance to have a virtual sit down with AD Tim McMurray, Associate AD Taylor Phelps, and Lion senior defensive back
Alex Shillow on the recent announcement of the Lion Varsity L Club, and what we can look forward to. Let’s dive right in.
The Wire: Just what is the Varsity L Club, and how did it come about?
McMurray: During the spring of 2016, we began a process of doing a deep dive on truly reengaging our former student athletes and rekindling the former T Association at A&M Commerce. For a number of reasons-primarily related to operational detail-we had good contact information on less than 25 percent of our former student athletes. We were in the process of celebrating 100 years of Lion athletics, and we only had updated information on one of every four people. Thanks to former Lions like Blake Cooper-who has a distribution list that has help us on many occasions to get things updated-plus the staff there at The Lion Wire, as well as Mike Lamb, Ray Hawkins, Ken Goodman, Donna Tavener, Dian Fife, J.P. and Holly Mulligan, and many others who consistently help us update information. The leadership of Taylor Phelps has been very instrumental in this area. He has headed this initiative since his return to the Lion family in 2017. We are currently well north of 75% updated contact information for former student athletes, and that is simply incredible.
Phelps: As we begin to engage more and more student athletes, we learned that no, or very few, student athletes identified with the term “T Association” as a moniker for former student athlete engagement. Our re brand initiative was deliberate, intentional, and done with a high level of outreach and feedback from both men’s and women’s sports, and a diverse mixture of age and race. What we believe has been created is an exciting new brand that distinguishes all former Lions who have “blood in the bricks” and an emotional investment in Lion athletic program.
Shillow: The Varsity L Club is a connection after competition for former letter winners. The sad part about college sports ending for a student athlete is losing the connection where many memories were made, and bonds forged. The Varsity L Club will help maintain that relationship as everyone will be engaged with athletics, have opportunities to participate in events, and impact future programs.
The Wire: Who is eligible for membership?
McMurray, Phelps: Any former Lion student athlete, spirit squad member, coach, athletic trainer, or administrator
Shillow: Any former student athlete, cheer team member, Lion Dance Team member, student athletic trainer, manager, coach, and athletic administrator.
The Wire: What do the donations support?
McMurray, Phelps: Donations go directly into the Lion Champions Fund, which has grown by over 300 percent in support of our Best In Class student athletes since 2016. A portion of LCF funds each year are earmarked for alumni/former student athlete outreach. While remarkable, we are only in the initial stages of the re engagement of our former student athletes from all teams and decades.
Shillow: The Varsity L Club is under the Lion Champion Fund umbrella, so it would go to the overall fund to support and enhance the student athlete experience and well being as a Lion.
The Wire: What impact can we look forward to on day to day activities?
McMurray, Phelps: I would hope it is a generational bookend impact. When former Lion student athletes come back to attend games, alumni weekend, Homecoming, and other opportunities to meet the current teams, that means we are directly connecting those who left a legacy with those who are the latest to benefit from it. In just this brief span of concentrated effort, the morale in each of our sports programs that hold reunions, etc., has been noticeable, and led to more philanthropic efforts in our student athletes.
Shillow: By having former letter winners update their contact information, joining the Varsity L Club will proved the Athletic Department a touch point to connect with them, as well as keeping former letter winners informed and engaged so they feel a part of what is going on currently. There are many benefits to joining the club that include, but are not limited to, Hall of Fame voting privileges, newsletter updates, alumni recognition, and much more. Personally, I feel the best benefit is being back around the Lion family, and having an active impact on current student athletes.
The Wire: What’s on the horizon for the Varsity L Club?
McMurray, Phelps: The same results that our current programs are seeing: growth, sustainability, and a championship mindset. If we are able to get 100 Varsity L Club members in year one, our goal for year two will be 200, and so forth. We are not a “slow lane, cruise control” athletics department, because that can lead to complacency. Rather, we are a “fast lane, foot on the gas” program that operates with a “Best In Class” mission. That is how we will strategically engage and position the Varsity L Club for success over the long term.
Just answering these questions has been invigorating and reminded us of the low hanging fruit that we have among our former student athletes. This is not a “money grab” tied to donations, but rather a collaborative engagement tool ,that has an open ended invitation for those who helped lay the foundation to return to Commerce.
Shillow: Reestablishing connections with former letter winners will allow athletics to grow and maintain relationships that otherwise might have been lost. Connecting former teammates will be impactful in the progression of the club, to ensure that old relationships are renewed and memories preserved for a lifetime. Commerce is a special place, and many other places don’t have programs like this. Whether it was Texas A&M Commerce, or Old ET, Lion Athletics is a commitment for life, and the Varsity L Club is the latest effort in continuing that commitment.
It is certainly apparent that the future of Lion Athletics is in good hands, and sits on a solid foundation. Many, many thanks to Billy and Brian for the assist in coming up with the questions, and to Tim,Taylor, and Alex for taking the time to give insight.
Yes, indeed……It’s Time to Hunt.