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Ledyard understands the importance of hire

June 20, 2011
Weirton Daily Times

As a Catholic university, Franciscan is committed to traditional Catholic values that have been a part of the university's history. These include the development of the human spirit as well as the body, the pursuit of excellence in all endeavors, the fostering of Christian character, the call to personal integrity and the acceptance of personal responsibility.

That is a portion of the mission statement for Franciscan University of Steubenville's Department of Athletics.

It's a mission statement that is getting a workout this week.

The Barons are hiring a men's basketball coach, and it's down to six from more than 30 candidates, with the interviews being scheduled for later this week.

The selection committee of five has its work cut out for it.

This is an important hire for the Barons, and Athletic Director Chris Ledyard understands that.

"Very much so," said Ledyard. "I think it's going to be important because basketball is important to most people - basketball takes on a certain significance to most of us. We knew coming into this process that the most challenging sport would be men's and women's basketball that we would have in terms of sticking to our mission and going after wins.

"I'm pretty happy with this year that just went by - happy with the level of competition. We finished our third year in NCAA and we played six games against four opponents who made NCAA tournament.

"What we were looking at this year was to close the gap and we did that. We certainly moved forward. But, is it where we want to be - no."

It's not all about wins on the court at FUS, and it can't be.

If you are a school of faith and God plays a prominent role, wins can't be the No. 1 priority.

It's not to say you can't win as an athletic program, FUS being a Division III school, but it cannot be the sole reason players put on a uniform.

As Ledyard talked to candidate after candidate, basketball did not necessarily come up early in the conversation.

"Clearly the mission statement is more important, but wrapped into that mission statement is a competitive college team," he said. "It's been a part of every team that we have. We know it's not good enough to just survive. We are looking for competitive teams. We are committed to field competitive teams, but not at the expense of our mission.

"We don't recruit directly for basketball or any sport. We recruit kids around the country who want to be supported in a Catholic-faith atmosphere. Look at the summer conferences. We are in front of 40,000 youth across the country in the summer. Now, what percentage of those kids are athletes?

"Whether the youth went to one of our conferences here in Steubenville, or in Boston or Nova Scotia, or found out about us on the Internet, that is the kind of athlete we are getting these days.

"It wasn't an accident we ended up getting two state champions in tennis - one from Florida and one from Michigan - to come here to Franciscan to play tennis.

"I understand you can't survive without recruiting. But, do I have to follow the model of recruiting that is done across the country - no, I don't have to follow that model."

The Barons get that kid who feels like a fish out of water at other schools because they pray and read their bible every day. They get that kid who is different - in a good way.

"We have to put our message out there nationally and locally," said Ledyard. "Locally, the strength of athletic program will grow - locally, the kids already know what our mission is.

"Nationally, in terms of recruiting, there are scenarios through pockets of Catholic communities that are aware who we are and we encourage those kids to come to camps at Franciscan to deepen their level of development."

"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." - Philippians 1:27

Folks, this isn't your Barons of 1958 any more. They are no longer a Division I small school.

It is Division III and the world is different.

That, of course, does not excuse having programs which struggle to garner victories.

"We can create a basketball team that the city is proud of," said Ledyard. "We're not Division I any more. The D1 model - tell me that isn't broken. There's a certain obviousness that when you hand money to play a game in college, certain things will fall by the wayside. They have muddied the waters on why the kids have come.

"We're not going there. Mount Union doesn't go there.

"There are a lot of D3 schools that are very strong, that are in the top 10 nationally, but the reason you don't hear about them is that they are not going to cater to just the athletic experience alone. They are going to cater to the broader person and at most D3 schools that means academically.

"For this school, it is spiritually and academically."

"For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." - 1 Corinthians 6:20

Ledyard and I have talked about this a lot and I understand where he is coming from.

Sports is the one public place where coaches and athletes can quickly lose their testimony.

And, it takes discussion after discussion, devotional after devotional, prayer after prayer, to help athletes and their coaches keep their testimonies while competing.

It is not easy.

"We want coaches to be strong in the Catholic faith and gear their sports toward the development of the person - mind, body and spirit - and not to negate any of those three," said Ledyard. "I think it's notable that while we've been in the NCAA, we have nationally ranked times in cross country, have won six championships in the AMCC and two RMU championships in rugby.

"I think it still plays to the point that we can continue what we're doing and do it longer, it will grow if the right people are on the bus.

"We are moving to find the right person for the men's basketball program. Who is the next person to take it to the next level, to take us to a new place? We want the guy who can really move the program forward, but in the right way.

"Most D3 models put the weight of the recruitment on the coach. That's a lot of pressure and that's the world most of these guys are used to. We're not willing to go there yet.

"We are a school that has academics and is spiritually strong and we don't hide that, nor do we want to. We want to advertise our school in a way people will come, whether that is coaches or players or students.

"That puts pressure on me and the administration. There is a lot of onus on us to make the program great. Some of our programs are there and some are not there.

"Basketball is not there yet - men's or women's. But, we'll get there in both programs.

"I'm very excited about this. It's stressful at times, but very exciting."

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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