Denison University is a top college for sports lovers, according to Money magazine. Money partnered with Sports Illustrated to compile a list of great colleges and universities for students who love sports — but who also want a high-quality, affordable education that positions them for career success. Denison is No. 9 in the nation for Division III schools and tied for the No. 41 when combined with Division I schools.
“Denison recruits top talent nationally for our teams. We take athletics seriously and it really shows on the field. We are thrilled to have Denison recognized as a top college for sports lovers,” said Nan Carney-DeBord, associate vice president, director for the athletics program and a member of the Denison Class of 1980. “Our coaches are advanced at helping our athletes achieve their highest potential as athletes, scholars and human beings. Our students see their peers’ endeavors and excellence and they respond to it. This truly is a great place to play and watch sports.”
Denison has a rich tradition at the highest levels of athletic competition. The college has won a record 15 North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) All-Sports Awards, four of them in the last six years, highlighted by a streak of nine consecutive titles that spanned 1997-98 through 2005-06. Denison’s swimming and diving team has won four national DIII championships, three by the men’s team and one by the women’s, and Big Red teams often make national championship tournaments in men’s and women’s lacrosse, women’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s tennis.
“I wanted to go to a campus that was nationally known for both its academics and athletics,” said baseball player Eric Zmuda ’17, who will work as a consultant with Deloitte after graduation. “Being an athlete has taught me so much. “I’ve learned how to run the risk of putting all your energy into something, without knowing what the outcome will be. Athletes dedicate hours and hours to uncertain outcomes and sometimes failure. I know that understanding how to put my full commitment behind my work, despite the risk of failure, will help me make sense of the ebb and flow of the working world.”
“Athletes have such a strong presence on campus,” said NCAA All-American swimmer Campbell Costley ’17. “I have a T-shirt that says ‘heart of the hill,’ which says it all. I feel like we set the tone for other student groups. Being leaders, we carry ourselves a certain way. Athletes are looked on as stand-up people, people who get involved, people who are active participants and listeners.”
Scholar-athletes are the norm at Denison, which has dozens of Academic All-Americans on its roster, including Grant Jones ’88, who was inducted into the Capital One Academic All-America® Hall of Fame in 2015. Numerous NCAC post-graduate scholars have been awarded $7,500 scholarships in recognition of their athletic and academic excellence.
“When I was looking at schools, my top priority was great academics, combined with an opportunity to play great softball. Denison had the most to offer for both,” said Erin Laswell ’17, who plans to get her master’s degree in athletic training. “My coach started recruiting me as a junior in high school. We had a strong relationship even before I came to Denison. She pushes me to be the best person and athlete I can be.”
“We’ve had some hard conversations about growing and maturing — and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” she added. “I’ve really learned how to communicate with my coaches and my teammates. Graduate schools have been very interested in my experience as an athlete, and my strong communication skills are just one of the direct results of my athletic career. It’s hard to put into words how much pride I, as well as other athletes, have in what we do.”
In addition to 23 varsity sports, Denison has 38 intramural and club sports, including squash, rugby, ultimate Frisbee, hockey, equestrian, crew and fencing. “When you combine our varsity and intramural sports, about 75 percent of the campus participates in athletics of some kind,” said Carney-DeBord. “Students get to sharpen their team-building skills, keep fit, increase fitness, release some stress and just have a good time.”
Each semester Denison organizes three sections of intramural leagues for sports like flag football and sand volleyball. “These are simply fun and recreational,” said Lynsey Whisner, the director of intramural and club sports. “Students pull together a team and they play for about four to five weeks. It’s a great way for them to just enjoy themselves.”
Denison’s 28 club sports are funded through the Denison student government association. Each club is student-run and most often, students are committed to the sport over the entire year. Many clubs, such as squash, rugby and fencing have coaches and compete outside Denison. The club sports program gives students an opportunity to participate in non-NCAA sports. With a wide variety of clubs such as anglers, Taekwondo, bowling and equestrian clubs, students can find their niche.
Student-run clubs also offer leadership opportunities. “You can really see students rise to the top,” said Whisner. “Students have to be very organized, get other students’ buy-in, and hold those students accountable to the team. These are great leadership positions.”
Elizabeth Postema ’18 relishes her time on the women’s rugby team, which has taken five Ohio championships in the past six years. “Being a rugby player is a huge source of pride for me. I’m not big or muscular, but I feel empowered on the field with my rugby sisters. We are really a family. Everyone feels it — once you’re on the team, you're there for the long haul.”
Many sports are coed and even those with separate men’s and women’s teams, such as squash, often practice together. “When students play sports with another gender they come to respect each other on a different level. They eventually get over the man/woman divide, and work toward a common goal. I see it lead to a lot of respect on and off the field,” said Whisner.
“And they have so much fun just in the sport itself. The Ultimate Frisbee team practices a couple of times per week, they go to tournaments all the time, and host a couple of tournaments each year. You can see what a good time they are having.”