Groundbreaker

Sam Hirt, MA’63, EdS’69, Bids Farewell to Campus Recreation

Recreational sports have transformed Vanderbilt’s campus considerably during the past 50 years, and one man has championed their cause from the beginning. Long before there was a Student Recreation Center or any of the adjacent outdoor facilities, Sam Hirt was doing what he could to promote sports activities on campus, initially as Vanderbilt’s first full-time intramural director and then as head of the physical education department.

In short, Hirt was Campus Recreation before there was even such a thing.

Hirt has retired after 50 years of promoting recreational sports on campus. (Daniel Dubois)

 

“In those days the students really didn’t have places to play,” says Hirt, who retired in September as director of campus recreation—a post he had held for 40 years. “One by one, we’ve built places for them to go. Some of those have since been eliminated and newer ones have taken their place, but each step represents a progression.”

To see how far recreation has come at Vanderbilt, one need only look at the new multipurpose facility and current renovations to the Student Recreation Center. Opened in November, the multipurpose facility includes a 120-yard-long indoor practice field surrounded by a 300-meter indoor track. Upgrades to the Student Recreation Center, now called the Vanderbilt Recreation and Wellness Center, which will be completed in January 2014, include expanded weight-training, cardiovascular and fitness areas, plus an additional basketball court.

“A year from now, there will be new student clubs that you never would’ve heard about otherwise. Why? Because they’ll finally have the space to practice,” says Hirt about the extra 170,000 square feet of facilities, which will be open to the entire Vanderbilt community.

Working with students has been his primary mission ever since he was hired straight out of George Peabody College for Teachers in 1963. “The students are my love,” he says. “I begin and end with the students. They’re the only reason I’m here.”

Helping female students enjoy greater access to recreational sports at Vanderbilt is one of Hirt’s proudest accomplishments. One of the first things he did as head of physical education in 1970 was open Memorial Gym for use by the women’s intramural program, putting it on equal footing with the men’s program. “We were years ahead of the game,” he says, referring to the groundbreaking Title IX legislation in 1972 that aimed to end sex discrimination in education.

Hirt’s career has been punctuated by many milestones—from creating one of the first-of-its-kind campus recreation offices in 1973 to helping build the nationally recognized Student Recreation Center in 1990—and certainly his retirement after 50 years of service will be remembered as one of them. It is a rare feat in any line of work.

“I feel so blessed and privileged to have worked here,” he says. “Giving this up is difficult, but it’s time. Fifty years is long enough.”

—SETH ROBERTSON