July 7, 2016 5:05:23 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
The 5-inch by 7-inch picture says a lot about Jason Trufant.
You might miss the black-and-white canvas on first glance around the otherwise spartan office tucked away behind a corner on the first floor of the Cromwell Communications Center. Trufant has been at Mississippi University for Women only a month, so he hasn't had a lot of time to plaster the back brick wall with pictures or to pack the bookcase along the right wall with books. On Tuesday, the shelves of that bookcase were armed with NCAA manuals and had plenty of room for additions, as did a back area, where a Carolina blue MUW T-shirt from the school's tobacco-free campaign sat folded on a bureau as if left over from a previous occupant.
But look back to the picture on the left wall and you can tell Trufant is at home in his new position as athletic director at The W. The picture shows Trufant sitting with his daughter, Rian, in front of a chain-link fence. The picture, taken three years ago by Jason's wife, Cara, was from a baseball game at Molloy College in New York, one of Trufant's previous employers. Trufant said Rian walked up to the fence and said, 'I want to watch this,' so he sat down behind her to make sure she didn't put her hands on the fence.
These days, you could just as easily slip Kellan, Jason's 4-year-old son, into a similar picture. In time, one like it with son and father in front of a fence at a renovated softball field at The W or the school's Garrett Tennis Courts might join the other image.
That kind of growth is exciting for the city of Columbus because that's the kind of athletic program Trufant wants to build at The W. Hired in May, Trufant has been on the job for a month at The W. His job is to re-build an athletic department that was discontinued in 2003 and to create one for women and men in an attempt to enhance the college experience for the school's students. MUW President Jim Borsig spear-headed the move to bring athletics back to The W, and is working with Trufant on a strategic plan that will determine which sports the school adds, what level it decides to play on, and which conference it plays in.
Many of the details are still being work on, but Trufant is ready to do whatever it takes to make things work. He understands the work that needs to be done because he has spent time in numerous roles in his time as a player, coach, and administrator at nearly every level of intercollegiate athletics. At The W, like many of his previous stops, Trufant said working with the community will be an integral component of the new athletic department at The W.
"This is a little different (because) this is ground floor and building as high as you can go," Trufant said. "Have I added programs in the past? Yes. That is really how I have to try to look at things, to simplify it down."
Trufant said keeping things simple, doing them the right way, and making sure they are done right the first time will ensure good results.
"You hit it on the head, it is overwhelming at times, but let it be overwhelming because you will learn from that, and keep moving along in your process," Trufant said.
The involvement of the city of Columbus and the rest of the Greater Golden Triangle area will be crucial to the development and vibrancy of MUW's athletic department. Trufant already has been to the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. He even said he visited the city's library the other day. All of the talks, speeches, and handshakes are designed to create a buzz about athletics at The W. The hope is the return of intercollegiate sports to Columbus -- and the likely participation of plenty of local high school standouts -- will create a sense of ownership for local residents that drives them to support the school and the programs.
That support won't cost millions and millions of dollars. A drive 30 or so minutes to the west, a few hours north, and an hour-and-a-half to the east will give you a chance to experience life in the penthouse. Athletic experiences at The W can be just as engaging -- albeit on a much smaller scale -- if the community wants to be a part of them.
Glenn Schmidt, who worked for 11 years as a women's basketball coach, a compliance coordinator, and a senior women's administration at The W, said there were people in the area in 2002 and 2003 who protested the decision to discontinue intercollegiate athletics at the school, but she said they didn't complain in a "loud enough voice." She said you have to have people who are "willing to fight" and who are "going to take a sincere genuine interest" in what happens at MUW for a new athletic department to succeed.
"You can't compare it to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama," Schmidt said. "It has to be a sense of community that is going to be there and that is supporting it."
Schmidt would be an ideal addition to The W's staff, either as a fundraiser or as a consultant. She remembers crowds of a few hundred attending the women's basketball games and believes the addition of men's athletics will help bolster attendance and support, simply because there usually is crossover interest from different programs at the same school.
Trufant understands the challenge The W faces to build support. He knows the notion of Division III athletics might not be as glamorous for fans or student-athletes who have grown up with wall-to-wall coverage of the Southeastern Conference. But Trufant believes relationships can be built by bringing people in the community to The W and having them be a part of the "total academic and athletic experience." That's why he doesn't feel there any limitations to what The W can do because he senses the excitement people have about what is going to happen.
The job now is to build those ties and to get people to understand how The W's athletic department can help make the city of Columbus and the Greater Golden Triangle area even more vibrant.
Don't wait. You might think 2017 is a long way away, but now is the time to be an engaged and active participant in the return of intercollegiate athletics to The W.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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