Acting President Richard Englert’s love of student athletics is evident through one look at his office, which is riddled with memorabilia varying from a field hockey calendar signed by the players to an autographed picture of Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach John Chaney.
“Our student-athletes are terrific,” Englert said. “They have two full-time jobs: one as a student and one as a student-athlete.”
But as he picks up a volleyball signed by the players of the 2002 squad that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament, his eyes light up, showing his love for the team that played in “one of the best athletics events” he’s ever seen.
Englert has served in numerous positions during his time at the university, and has been a mainstay at athletic events at Temple. Englert has a particular interest in volleyball matches, something which the team’s coach said doesn’t go unnoticed by the players.
“He really makes an effort to make all events,” coach Bakeer Ganes said. “It makes a good impression on the students.”
Englert was vice president of administration in 2002 and wanted to build support for teams other than football and basketball, he said.
“Football and the two basketball [teams] usually get a lot of attention,” Englert said. “So, I wanted to go the next level [and asked], ‘What team should really get a lot of attention?’ I was told, at the time, volleyball.”
Englert said he started to hold receptions for the team to generate support and increased attendance. The timing of this support couldn’t have been better as the team won the Atlantic 10 Conference, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Penn State hosted the first two rounds of the tournament, and Englert took a bus load of students to State College, Pa. After a win in the first round of the tournament against Manhattan, Temple faced Penn State on the Nittany Lions’ home court.
“[There were] 5,000 people. Every time Penn State scores a point it’s ‘Point’ and then the crowd yells ‘Penn State.’ So, clearly a very supportive crowd for Penn State and we’re there with our 40 or 50 people,” Englert said.
Temple ended up upsetting Penn State and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Englert said that since that “magical” season, he’s kept attending games and drumming up support for the team.
“For a team that previously hadn’t been getting that much recognition,” Englert said. “I just wanted to support them and I’ve supported them ever since.”
Ganes said Englert normally lets the team know before he’s coming and takes a seat behind the bench.
“He brings added motivation for them to perform,” Ganes said.
Junior Gabriella Matautia said Englert’s been active around the team even as his role of acting president has added more on to his schedule. Matautia recalled a game earlier this year at which Englert had the choice of going to a football game at Penn State or a volleyball game at home. He picked the latter, a popular choice with Matautia and her teammates.
“He was talking about how he was stuck between going to our game and their game,” Matautia said. “He said no one would notice if he went to the football game, but if he came to the volleyball game we would all realize he was there. We thought that was really nice of him.”
Assistant coach Akiko Hatakeyama, who played for Temple in 1997, said Englert showed support for the team even before 2002 and said he remembered her when she came back as assistant coach this year. Hatakeyama played in the United States Professional Volleyball League and Englert had her player card, she said.
“I saw the president in the beginning of the season and the first words he said to me were ‘Welcome back to Temple, I still have your player card from when you were on the professional team,’” Hatakeyama said. “So, that was really surprising to me and I appreciate that he really likes volleyball. It means a lot that he remembered me from back then.”
Hatakeyama added that even with Englert’s hectic schedule, he still seems to show up at the team’s home games.
“I know he’s a busy person, but somehow every time we have a home game he makes the time for us to come to our games,” Hatakeyama said.
Englert showed up Friday night at the team’s senior night to present awards even after initially saying he wouldn’t be able to attend.
“He told us that for senior night, he couldn’t make it,” Hatakeyama said. “He actually came to our senior night game and it was good that he could give the awards to our seniors.”
Englert said his reasoning for attending as many athletic events as he does is because of how much he cares for the effort put in by the students.
“The kids are special,” Englert said. “All of them.”
Sean Carlin can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.