In a world of well-paid professional athletes, high-profile coaches and notable sports personalities, the selection of a college English professor as one of America's most influential sports educators might seem to be out of place.
Not so according to the Institute for International Sport which has included Hope College emeritus English professor Jack Ridl on its first list of the 100 most influential sports educators in America.
"In America and in many other countries, we honor elite athletes, winning coaches, wealthy team owners and media moguls. We praise sports educators yet we really do not honor them in a manner befitting their admirable impact on society," said Don Doyle, executive director of the Institute for International Sport. "This project is aimed at honoring individuals and organizations who have creatively and effectively used sport in the very best way -- as a means to educate and shape positive values."
The organization said that during a three-year selection process it considered more than 1,500 nominations. The final list is a literal Who's Who in American sport, including Professor Ridl as "sports poet."
Ridl, who retired from fulltime teaching at Hope in 2006, has written dozens of sports-themed poems and essays that have been published broadly.
"I grew up a coach's kid. My father, Buzz Ridl, a Hall-of-Fame college basketball coach and college athletic director, taught me how to be a shortstop and a point guard. He also taught me how to see, how to watch a game - aesthetically. To this day I seldom care about the score (unless it's a Hope score). I enjoy the aesthetic experience of any game," Professor Ridl said.
"The life of a coach's kid is lived behind the scenes. One learns to observe, and it was this experience that led to my writing poems that focus on small town living through the lens of a basketball team. I've worked on these poems for most of my career, and just learned that a collection of them will soon be published by CavanKerry Press," he said.
"This recognition from the Institute for International Sport came as a wonderful surprise, one that I share with joy with my late father, who taught me about sport and about teaching. The Institute, under the direction of Daniel Doyle, has been a major force for good in the world of sports. I am thrilled to be standing in line with the other honorees, and I am ever grateful to Hope College's English department for its abiding support," Professor Ridl said.
Among the persons honored are tennis players Andre Agassi and Billie Jean King, NCAA executive director Myles Brand, sportscaster Bob Costas, former Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, NBA coach Phil Jackson, Olympic track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, NBA players Alonzo Mourning and Bill Russell, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, major leaguer Cal Ripken, Jr., Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summit, former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and golfer Tiger Woods. Also recognized were 15 teams and organizations.
A graduate of Westminster College, Professor Ridl joined the Hope faculty in 1971 having never taught a day in his life.
As he formed his approach to teaching, he drew on experience. His noted that when coaching his father was a master at building on each player's strengths. His father's creativity as a coach was complemented by the wonderfully imaginative influence of his mother and a favorite cousin who was a circus man and introduced him to an imaginative world that continues to inspire him.
In a 1988 story in the publication "news from Hope College," Ridl noted that growing up in a home that emphasized athletics influenced both his discipline -- the kind that stems from sports drills -- and outlook. "It affected the way I perceive things because where a fan watches a sporting event and hopes to celebrate victory, I grew up with a lot of anxiety about the consequences if we lost; there wouldn't be bread on the table, the press would write about my dad, the phones would ring, and I might get beat up at recess," he said.
"Some people say 'You're a terribly depressing person.' It's nothing to commend myself for -- it's just because of that background I think I tend to be pretty sympathetic toward loss or anyone or anything that doesn't win. Poems are a way I can do something with the things I doubt I can do anything about."
Over his 35-year teaching career, Professor Ridl earned acclaim not only on the Hope campus, but well beyond as both a poet and a teacher.
He is the author of several collections of poetry. His collection "Against Elegies" was chosen by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins as the winner of the 2001 "Letterpress Chapbook Competition" sponsored by the Center for Book Arts of New York City. He has published more than 300 poems in journals and has work included in numerous anthologies. He is also co-author of two textbooks.
In 1996 he was named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. The honors echoed the sentiment of Hope's students, who had presented him with the Hope Outstanding Professor Educator (H.O.P.E.) award in 1976 and had chosen him as Commencement speaker in 1975 and 1986. The student body elected him the recipients of the "Favorite Faculty/Staff Member" award in 2003. The college's Visiting Writers Series, which he co-founded in 1982 with his wife Julie Garlinghouse Ridl, was named in his honor in 2006.