Steve Walsh, '66, draws on memories of collegiate competition to help make UB a household name
What's the big secret about UB? For Walsh, it starts with the university's tremendous facilities, both for athletics and academics. "I think we have a phenomenal facility," says Walsh, "with great people, and that goes university wide. In my particular area, the athletics department, it's times 10."
That's high praise from a man whose experience in professional sports includes a stint as part owner and cochairman of the storied New York Islanders hockey team. Still, Walsh confesses to being "absolutely staggered by the quality of the athletics facilities" at UB when he visited the North Campus.
For Walsh, spreading the news about UB's tremendous athletics facilities is only part of the challenge of raising the university's profile-and raising money for athletics. Building successful, nationally recognized men's and women's athletics teams and programs are a key ingredient in turning UB from the world's best-kept secret into a household name.
Looking at UB athletics with what he calls "a businessman's eye," Walsh says that the high-profile sports teams such as men's football and women's and men's basketball are "forward scouts" in terms of marketing and sales, helping raise awareness of the university beyond Western New York-and helping attract promising new students from around the country. "A sports program is undeniably entertainment, and something the whole school rallies around," says Walsh.
In turn, it's typically through a successful sports program that the nation develops its perceptions about particular schools. "How many people's perception of a school is formed by a TV profile on a Saturday afternoon football game or a Saturday night basketball game?" Walsh asks. "But you cannot separate the academics from the athletics," he adds, citing nationally renowned universities such as Duke, Stanford, University of Virginia and Michigan that excel in both. "A strong athletics program serves as a representative of the school," he says, "especially in terms of marketing the school and attracting better quality students."
That's one of many reasons why Walsh is leading the charge to raise the funds needed to catapult UB athletics to regional and national prominence. Another important reason is his fond memories of his own athletics experiences at UB.
"One of the reasons I went to Buffalo was that I got a nice letter from the basketball coach," says Walsh. "I went up there thinking about basketball and baseball, then after playing freshman baseball, I moved over to intramural sports and had a great time." In part because of his intramural experiences, Walsh stresses the value of UB's tremendous athletics facilities for all students, whether they play on varsity teams, intramural sports or just enjoy working out.
Of intramural sports Walsh says, "It's a great thing, especially at a large institution, because you're going to have great competition." He fondly remembers competing against many varsity athletes, who were allowed to participate in any intramural sports except those they played at the intercollegiate level. "If you love sports, you're always going to love sports, and it's great to have the intramurals for a kind of serious fun rather than a career," he adds.
In Walsh's view, a good intramural program is as important to student life as intercollegiate competition. Along with opportunities to participate in sports, intramural programs also provide another social outlet for students who simply enjoy watching sports competitions.
Sports continues to play a big role in Walsh's family life, too. His son Andrew, a high school senior, is a hockey player who hopes to continue the sport in college. His daughter Sarah, a junior in high school, is a highly recruited student athlete in both basketball and lacrosse. Another son, Michael, lives in San Diego and continues to play hockey in his spare time.
Another reason for his involvement in the campaign is part personal,
part professional. As a managing partner in Walsh, Greenwood and Company,
a private investment firm, as well as a former cochairman and co-chief
executive officer of the Islanders and a former partner of Kidder, Peabody
and Company, Walsh has attended many business meetings where it seemed
everyone was talking about his or her alma mater. Says Walsh, "I'll
mention UB and-you know the response-they'll say, 'Oh, the snow!' I
want people to say, 'Wow, you went there!'"
inally, his involvement in the campaign gives Walsh an opportunity to relive his college years. After graduating in 1966, Walsh returned for a reunion the following year, then didn't revisit UB until he met UB director of athletics Bob Arkeilpane a few years ago. As he got to know Arkeilpane and UB's athletics programs, Walsh returned to UB and renewed his involvement with the university.
"You go back and relive those four years of college," he says. "I always knew they were four of the best years of my life. I only remember great stuff. Having relived it over the past year, I'm sure they were. The awakening was phenomenal."
Most important among his memories are the friends he made at UB, and the many success stories he counts among the graduates in his own class. "We have people in network and cable TV, we have federal judges, we have billionaires. And all that's just from my small circle of friends. Imagine who else is out there from the other classes. The story must go on and on," he enthuses. For Walsh and UB, that largely untapped network of alumni will play a crucial role in the campaign, and in helping the university reach its full potential in the years ahead. "We've got a great alumni network," he says, "but we need to remind them of the responsibility to pay back a little."
Walsh is well-prepared for his role as chair of the athletics committee for the campaign. Along with his business and sports experience, he has been active in many charitable causes and is currently on the board of directors of the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation. "You just have to believe in what you're asking for," says Walsh. "And you have to back it up." To demonstrate his commitment to UB athletics, Walsh made a $250,000 gift to UB athletics to help kick off the campaign.
He also cites the help Bob Arkeilpane and athletics department development officer Andy Hurley have given him in assuming the chairman's role. "I felt very proud and honored to be asked to do something like this," says Walsh. "Bob and Andy have been sensational in mapping out everything for me. They're terrific."
Indeed, Walsh brings his own clear and far-ranging vision to his role in the campaign, a vision that includes both what UB can be and what it will take for the university to achieve those goals.
"You can't separate one piece of the university from another," he says.
"In terms of the greater university and the objectives we're seeking-top
level education coupled with top level athletics-private giving has
to be up there. Everyone who graduated and is having a nice life should
want to support the institution that had so much to do with where they
Blair Boone, Ph.D. '84, is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.