Three years ago, the NCAA launched its Division III LGBTQ OneTeam Program to promote inclusion in small school athletics. The initiative has been a resounding success, recognizing the achievements of out LGBTQ athletes and administrators, and the programs that make their success possible.
The slate of winners this year have all enacted positive change in their worlds, which is the most anybody can ask for.
The LGBTQ student-athlete of the year award went to Matthew McGough, a five-time All-American in swimming for the prestigious John Hopkins University. He founded an Athlete Ally chapter at his school, creating a safe space for LGBTQ students to hold frank discussions about their lives, including deeply personal topics such as coming out and mental health.
McCough’s victories in the pool will always be part of John Hopkins’ athletic history, but his impact on the lives of LGBTQ students at his school are even more indelible.
“Starting a chapter of Athlete Ally at my school and also working through my personal things while coming out, receiving this award is like this long, hard journey that I’ve had over the last four or five years has been worth it,” he said.
Jess Duff, who won administrator-staff-coach of the year honors, also speaks candidly about her journey. The associate athletics director at Smith College, one of the Seven Sisters, conducts LGBTQ trainings at Division III schools. As a member of the Common Ground leadership team, she connects LGBTQ administrators, advocates and athletes to those at faith-based institutions.
At the end of the sessions, the participants often find they’re a lot more alike than different. Alas, they find common ground.
“If you would’ve told my 19-year-old closeted self that I wouldn’t only be able to live a fulfilled and happy life as an out gay woman, but also receive an award with that being the defining criteria, I don’t think I would’ve ever believed it,” she said.
Of course, LGBTQ athletes, coaches and administrators wouldn't be able to do their great work, or be themselves, without great institutions standing behind them. In that spirit, Springfield College was named the OneTeam athletic department of the year.
The private school in Western Massachusetts has an affinity group for LGBTQ athletes — something that’s needed at every college and university — and recently partnered with Athlete Ally. The school started its True Colors video series to provide a platform for LGBTQ athletes to tell their stories.
“At Springfield College, we always try to get 1 percent better in every aspect,” said Michelle Lee Scecina, assistant athletics director for compliance and student-athlete well-being. “It’s a matter of continuing to listen to our students, know that they’re going to be heard.”
Sometimes, that’s all people need: an ear. Springfield College administrators are proud to listen, which enables their LGBTQ students and athletes to soar.
Read more about the winners here.