Jim Amidon — I was thinking a lot about Wabash College history over the weekend.
When President Pat White welcomed about 400 high school seniors and their families in the Chapel on Friday, the 118th Honor Scholarship Weekend was underway.
While we can’t prove it definitively, we believe that Wabash boasts the nation’s oldest merit-based scholarship competition. Since the 1890s, the College has invested in the promise of smart, motivated young men and their potential to change the world.
After welcoming the Honor Scholars, 24 hours later the President threw out the first pitch at the new Wabash Ballpark — home of the Wabash baseball team. With that ceremonial pitch, a new chapter was written in Wabash athletics history — a history that dates to 1866 when Wabash won the very first game of intercollegiate baseball played in Indiana.
Wabash is a place steeped in tradition. The College grew its sports identity just three decades after its founding in 1832 with that first baseball game against Asbury College. Before the turn of that century, Wabash would win the first intercollegiate football (1884) and basketball (1896) games played in our state.
Part of what makes Wabash appealing to young men is its history — and the College’s love of its history.
When high school men come to campus for visit weekends like Honor Scholarship Weekend, they listen intently when their tour guides explain that Forest Hall was constructed in 1833 and that Center Hall is over 150 years old.
Those same high school guys seem to delight when they hear Center Hall’s wooden stairs creak beneath their feet and as they glide their hands over the well-worn handrails.
There is pride in the fact that Wabash won all those early sports championships and the College’s players and coaches were pioneers of the games we love today.
I think parents, too, rejoice in Wabash’s history of producing local, state, and national leaders in education, law, medicine, and business. There’s something reassuring in Wabash’s history — its track record — as a liberal arts college that has never wavered from its mission.
When a college has granted academic scholarships for 118 years, you know that it’s serious in its commitment to the young men who enroll at Wabash. Parents realize this.
But there’s an interesting paradox, too. Those same high school students who love the creaky steps and worn wood of Center Hall might not consider Wabash if its science labs weren’t state-of-the-art and its athletic facilities top-notch.
The history and traditions “feel” good and help young men and their families see themselves as a part of a bigger whole.
The new Wabash Ballpark, the Field Turf in the football stadium, and the incredible biochemistry labs demonstrate the College’s commitment to the best possible educational experience for its students.
It’s a great combination — tradition-rich and cutting-edge.
Wabash boasts one of the strongest alumni networks of any college in the country. Our teaching faculty is second to none. The two centers — the Center of Inquiry and the Wabash Center — are leading international conversations on teaching and learning and the liberal arts.
President White has issued a challenge of excellence to everyone affiliated with Wabash — which both honors our past and celebrates our future.
The Honor Scholarships earned by the men of the Class of 2015 and the new outdoor athletics facilities are indeed forward-looking. But they are both rooted in a proud and rich history.