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The Spartan Shield With Mark Hollis

Aug. 30, 2017

Editor's Note: Throughout the year, Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis will offer his thoughts on a variety of topics in The Spartan Shield.

The Summer of 1980

As the sun was setting on the summer of 1980, I packed my limited belongings into my 1972 Olds Cutlass. I was preparing to depart the shores of Lake Huron and the small Village of Lexington that I called home. That first westward drive as a Spartan to East Lansing was one of excitement, fear and anxiousness. I had many questions, there were many unknowns and the personal equity that I built during my time in my high school classrooms, sports, and stage were fading in my rear-view mirror. It was time to start over, take a leap, develop new relationships, respond to higher academic challenges and simply try to fit in. I felt as if my life was a sports season and my record was once again 0-0.

Over that year, from my 11' x 12' room on the 6th floor of Case Hall, the opportunities and challenges came at me like drinking from a firehose. Among those early experience on campus, I approached a grumpy and loveable man called Jud, a person that would go on to have a great impact on my life. Many times in my silence, I watched him, listened to him and tried to anticipate what he needed to make his life successful as the Spartans' head coach. From that relationship, I met my first Yooper, sweet moustache and all, and he would become my roommate and life-long friend -- constantly challenging me for 35 years -- constantly making me better. I was learning, becoming a small part of something bigger than I could have ever imagined growing up in Lexington. I was meeting people and building relationships along the way, many that continue to be a significant part of my life today -- none being more meaningful than meeting my wife Nancy.

The 1983-84 Spartans including head coach Jud Heathcote, first-year assistant coach Tom Izzo and student manager Mark Hollis.
The 1983-84 Spartans including head coach Jud Heathcote, first-year assistant coach Tom Izzo and student manager Mark Hollis.

What has changed since that summer of 1980? Let's start with hairstyles, the clothes we wear, how we communicate, the vehicles used to move across campus, and learning beyond the boundaries of our campus. The buildings have changed from my days as the basketball student manager, when the team played in Jenison Field House. Today, Breslin Center is the home of Spartan Basketball and has just recently received a substantial upgrade for both fans and participants. Our student-athletes have the opportunity to enhance their academic success in the Smith Center, learn to shop for groceries with a dietician, and train in amazing facilities. This is reflective to what has happened across campus with the addition of facilities like the Wharton Center, DCPAH, Bott Nursing Building, MSU College of Law, Broad Art Museum, Biophysical Sciences Building, Bioengineering Building, FRIB and Brody Cafeteria as examples. These buildings are only outdone by the teachers, researchers, performers and Spartans that work in them every day.

While many things have changed around us, the core values of learning, education, and research continue to thrive at very high levels on campus. The relationships that are built in this process between and among students, faculty, staff, alumni and others is not only critical to the learning process, but to life after graduation. MSU students are the core of campus and every student is important to Spartan athletics. This importance is not simply derived from those that attend games and cheer on their fellow students. The importance comes from what they do, as individual students, in the classroom, music hall, lab, field work, education abroad, neighborhoods or the pursuit of their choice. Having greatness around you can only make you better. That is why Spartans support Spartans and deliver in all areas with a "Spartans Will" attitude.

What is around the next corner? The answer to that question is what simultaneously brings both excitement and fear to most people. There are many things that will occur on our campus over the 2017-2018 academic year. We will collectively celebrate achievements and face adversity together, while maintaining a balance of strength. The extremes of success and failure are brought back to equilibrium through communication. Communication is among the most used and, perhaps, the most misunderstood word, on today's campus and in our work environment. Today, when we think about communication we tend to focus on the vehicles that allow us to communicate: TV; Wi-Fi; smart phones; internet; breaking news; and social media. When not properly managed, these vehicles have a tendency to, in fact, distort our communications. Comments channeled through these various vehicles can push the positive and negative to the extremes, along with our associated emotions. This is a digression from the true definition of communication - a two-way process of reaching mutual understanding in which participants not only exchange information, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning.

With an opportunity to engage with nearly 800 student-athletes every year, along with our coaches and staff, I see the true meaning of communication come to life year after year, team after team. Individuals from different backgrounds, religions, nations and ethnicities coming together as teammates. As I did in 1980, they come to campus with their own story and share it with others on their team, within our Athletic Department and across our campus. They not only share their story, but have the opportunity to expand their personal history by learning and engaging in new experiences with others on campus.

The summer of 1980 has faded into a distant memory. However, for me, it continues to be a reminder of the start of another academic year on campus. As new students arrive, they bring their history and background along with feelings of excitement and anxiety. Student-athletes have new opportunities to excel in athletic competition, academic pursuit and in becoming an outstanding citizen. Each student makes many decisions every day that will help shape the future of their lives. What becomes available to each person through entitlement is usually short-lived. What becomes available through work, communication, collaboration, relationships and a true sense of shared meaning continues for a lifetime.

While I wish I still had that 1972 Olds Cutlass, I do have the memories that were created as a result of that first drive to East Lansing. My hope is that every student, faculty, staff and Spartan will find a way this 2017-2018 academic year to make a positive impact for themselves and those around them. Helping others will also help you. Go Green!

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