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Knowlton’s Notes: Jim Knowlton celebrates individual/team successes

Knowlton took the time to speak once more with the Cal Bears athletic department

CAL BEARS PLAY NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS Jose Carlos Fajardo/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

In his monthly newsletter, Director of Cal Athletics Jim Knowlton penned a mention of all of the team and individual successes that your California Golden Bears have seen over the past few months.

Despite months of unrest and safer-at-home regulations during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Cal Bears have seen many individuals selected to everything from All-District Academic Teams to national mentions and all in between. Knowlton took time to address those successes as well as give his take on the coronavirus and all the plannings of the athletic department going forward.

Knowlton also mentions talks with several students and all of the planning to reopen the doors and welcome students back on to campus.

In an incredibly detailed newsletter, Knowlton continues to urge safety and protection for all students and enlightens readers upon all the happenings of the athletics department and university itself.

Here’s the full note, from CalBears.com:

Dear Friend of Cal Athletics,

I hope this finds you and your family safe and healthy as we head into this Memorial Day weekend. If you do have the chance, enjoy time with your family while also remembering our service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

At heart, I am an optimist. So, in this era of social distancing and interrupted lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, I believe it is helpful to find ways to celebrate where we can. Here in Cal Athletics, we have been able to do exactly that, particularly over the past two weekends – first with our alumni and fans, and then with our student-athletes and their families.

On Saturday, May 9, we held our first Cal Football Virtual Fan Fest on Facebook Live and YouTube. With a goal to give the Cal community a glimpse into our football program, we assembled a program that included several videos, as well as interviews with assistant coaches Burl Toler III and Angus McClure and Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth. Even the Cal Band and spirit groups contributed a Zoom version of our fight song. Nearly 6,000 of our fans tuned in – thank you! – and the event was such a success that we heard from schools in all Power 5 Conferences and from more than 10 professional franchises, who wanted to know how we pulled it off. Cal innovation at its finest!

The original content continued last weekend. On what was supposed to be graduation day, we held another virtual event, this one titled the Cal Athletics Senior Celebration & Recognition of Student-Athlete Success – certainly a mouthful, but then, we had a lot we wanted to accomplish. I was incredibly proud of the work of our team in putting together a seamless and inspiring salute. Chancellor Christ began with a message for our student-athletes, Derek Van Rheenen, our Athletic Study Center director, announced a number of academic awards , and Robert Paylor, our rugby student-athlete who suffered a severe spinal cord injury three years ago, delivered an exceptional keynote address offering a unique and inspirational perspective with an empowering message. Robert, who earned his degree from the Haas School of Business and the recent winner of the N4A Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award, is an inspiration to all of us in many ways. Coach Jack Clark introduced Robert, and he and the entire rugby community have been such great supporters through Robert’s entire journey.

Our department celebration preceded another creative graduation day ceremony coordinated by campus. The virtual event took place within “Blockeley University,” a version of the University created through the Minecraft video game that originated through two former men’s rowers. Awesome!

Our string of good news continued this week with the release of the latest Academic Progress Rate scores , which truly tell a success story. Among the record highs we set as a department were an overall 989 multiyear APR and a 994 rate for the 2018-19 school year. In addition, a record-high 10 teams posted multiyear scores of 1,000 – with each earning NCAA Public Recognition Awards for their efforts – and 16 programs had a 1,000 APR for the most recent academic year to match the school’s best-ever total. Among the teams showing the most improvement are football, whose multiyear rate is up nearly 40 points over the past six years, and men’s basketball, which has posted a 1,000 one-year score three of the past five years. Classroom success is a priority for every member of the Cal Athletics family, and I believe we have established a culture to support our student-athletes that clearly has us on the right trajectory. Well done!

We have also continued to build out our Cameron Institute under the direction of Dr. Marissa Nichols by recently adding two more staff with doctoral degrees in leadership positions. Dr. Sean Hendricks came aboard in early April, and he will oversee leadership and personal development while also serving as chief of staff, supporting the mission of becoming a world-class student-athlete development operation. Dr. Graig Chow, a more recent addition to the team, will be the inaugural director of sport performance and well-being. He becomes our first in-house sport performance & psychology professional - providing high-level evidence-based training directly to coaches, teams, and small groups of student-athletes.

I am so proud of how our Cal community has come together to support Cal students and student-athletes during these challenging times. Contributions to the campus Student Emergency Fund or our own initiative for nutrition supplements for student-athletes in need make a difference. I am especially appreciative of our staff and coaches who have stepped forward, including Justin Wilcox with a significant gift that will benefit both our student-athletes and members of the general student body who are most impacted by this crisis.

I am excited to share that Chelsea Spencer will be returning to Berkeley as our new head softball coach. Chelsea was an All-American shortstop, helping us to the 2002 NCAA championship, and she has spent nearly 10 years preparing for this opportunity as an assistant on staff at Michigan State, Oregon and Texas. Chelsea’s passion and enthusiasm for Cal and our softball program continues to shine through, and I can’t wait for her to get started. I also want to give a big thanks to Diane Ninemire, who led our program for 32 years before retiring early in the season, and Tammy Lohmann, who stepped in as our interim coach during a challenging time.

While we are physically separated from each other, we are working hard to remain engaged with our student-athletes and alumni. Our recent department staff meetings have included talks by several students, including football’s Elijah Hicks, softball’s Jordan Fines, swimming’s Abbey Weitzeil and Cubbie Kile from rowing who graduated from the Haas School of Business earlier this month with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Coaches also continue with regular Zoom calls with their student-athletes, and many of our coaches have conducted calls with alumni and supporters to provide an inside look at how they are managing their teams. I am very proud of all of their efforts to stay connected.

Of course, we are spending much of our time planning for when we are able to reopen our doors and welcome students back to campus. We are continuing to plan for a range of scenarios for our student-athletes and teams, including a phased, responsible approach to returning to play. Protecting the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and community remains our highest priority.

We are also working closely with our colleagues across the Pac-12 and have athletics director calls three times per week. The conference’s chancellors and presidents met earlier this week to discuss the COVID-19 crisis, and they reaffirmed that any decisions will be guided by science and data, the counsel of medical experts, and leadership on the individual campuses. We are also well represented on the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee, which includes our sports medicine staff, team physician and Dr. John Swartzberg, a member of our public health faculty.

Most of our efforts at present concern football given its size and complexity, and whatever decisions we make can certainly be applied to our other sports. We are continuing to watch what is happening in the world around us, including how some other schools, sports and venues are beginning to open up. I think everyone throughout the country is trying to figure out how we work our way back to some type of normal and do it in a safe way. It is happening so quickly and changing so rapidly; we don’t want to make any pronouncements too early. Chancellor Christ has said that she expects to make some of the hard decisions for the fall term by the middle of June, and we expect that we will be able to provide more specific answers after that point. You can read more about the campus response efforts at this link.

As a member of the Cal Athletics community, you are invited to attend The Cal Athletics Fund Caravan four-part series of talks on important athletics topics during June and July. The traditional Coaches Caravan that we have staged on location the last few years is transitioning online to Zoom to accommodate the current climate and is expanding to feature coaches, administrators, and current and former student-athletes. The series begins June 4 with the theme Coaching Through Crisis, followed by The Pro Bear Perspective on June 18, the Cameron Institute on July 2, and 150 Years of Women at Berkeley on July 16. Registration will open next week on CalAthleticsFund.com.

In addition to these events, we will continue to update you with relevant news as the picture for the fall and the 2020-21 school year comes into focus. In the meantime, take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Thank you, and Go Bears!

No, thank YOU Jim!