Caltech students are certainly known more for their intellectual prowess than their athletic aptitude, but in fact the Institute has quite a history of educating and mentoring gifted athletes. So much so that when Betsy Mitchell—an Olympic gold medalist in swimming herself—joined the staff as director of athletics, recreation, and physical education in 2011, she decided to establish a Hall of Honor to recognize Caltech’s athletic heritage.
“We created the Hall of Honor to celebrate and commemorate our student-athletes’ achievements, both past and present,” says Mitchell, “and to recognize the contribution that participating in the Caltech athletics program plays in our students’ personal, educational, and professional development.”
In 2014—the Hall’s first year in existence—eight alumni were named to its inaugural class, for feats ranging from holding Caltech’s career points record (1,199) in basketball, to winning a silver medal in pole vaulting at the 1924 Olympics (one of three Caltech graduates who have competed in the Games), to earning All-SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) honors in five sports.
In addition, a pioneer award was given to Angie Bealko (BS ’96), who played on the men’s basketball team for a year before starting the women’s basketball club in 1995; that club played a major role in the creation of the Institute’s NCAA program of today. A team award was also given to the 1969–70 wrestling team for winning that year’s SCIAC title outright.
Six individual honorees were named in 2015, as was the first women’s fencing team, which was formed in 1971—a year after women were admitted to Caltech. The individuals included a cross-country, shotput, and discus star; the most decorated swimmer in Caltech history; and the only female recipient of Caltech’s Goldsworthy Track Trophy for sportsmanship, team spirit, and proficiency.
Of course, there are many current students and recent graduates—those not yet eligible for or inducted into the Hall of Honor—who are nonetheless accomplished competitors in their own right and have garnered accolades for their achievements both on and off the field.
In recent years, three students—Christopher Bradley (class of ’17), Aditya Bhagavathi (class of ’16), and Jeremy Leibs (BS ’06)—have been named Academic All-America honorees, in recognition of outstanding performance on the field and in the classroom. These students typically have GPAs of 3.8 or above and are accomplished athletes in their conference and nationally. During the 2014–15 school year, seven students received All-SCIAC Awards for exceptional performance within conference play, as voted on by coaches; eight received SCIAC Sportsmanship Awards; and 75 Caltech student-athletes received Academic All-SCIAC Honors
for earning cumulative GPAs of 3.4 or better. Not too shabby for a school that also has one of the most demanding curriculums in the country.
“While Caltech is a world leader in research, educating 18- to 22-year-olds remains a core mission,” says Mitchell. “This requires a broad perspective with attention paid to all parts of them as people. Nearly a quarter of our students are involved in sports at some level and pour their hearts into intercollegiate athletic competition, while as many as 80 percent of the study body is involved in sports at some level. This is reason enough to value their accomplishments and endeavors in the athletic realm, in addition to honoring the invaluable skills learned through the athletic curriculum in this very public laboratory. We are proud of our athletic accomplishments and strive to build on them every day.”
Header image courtesy of the Caltech Sports Information Office