NMU’s President Dr. Les Wong can be seen at plenty of Wildcat athletic events. The North Wind sat down with him to find out what he thinks about all things NMU sports.
Q: Lots of people call themselves NMU’s No. 1 fan. Where would you rank yourself?
Wong: I would give our fans the No. 1 ranking, and I would, without too much ego, put myself No. 2. To me, the whole idea of watching our students do what they love doing, is just a way of honoring them. Sports is part of the fabric of a campus, when you think of the practice, the training, the commitment, etc., the stakes seem higher. I do try to go out of my way to attend as much of the Wildcat sports as I can, and I have to admit I’ve become a really addicted hockey fan.
Q: Is there a story behind the ski jacket you’re always wearing at the hockey games?
Wong: Well, I’ll have to tell you. First of all it looked very cool when it was given to me, almost my first year here. The first place I wore it to was a hockey game when we upset somebody; I think it was Michigan State. So it became my lucky jacket. So now the only event I wear it to are hockey games. So it’s kind of a good luck piece for me.
Q: What has been your proudest moment as an NMU sports fan so far in your time here?
Wong: There has been a lot. I’ll give you a couple. The first winning season of the women’s soccer team three or four years back. To see them turn around the program in such a short time and to watch them play so well was quite stunning.
The second one more recently, when the women’s, basketball team beat Tech when Tech was ranked number one, was absolutely fabulous for us. When Dominic (Yoder) took the women’s volleyball team into the post season this year, was a symbol of a turn around as well. There’s just a number of hockey pieces as well. I always enjoy beating Michigan.
Q: From up in the President’s box, have you ever gotten carried away and find yourself yelling at the refs?
Wong: Oh yeah. My wife usually grabs me, or I’ve learned to control myself a bit more. I’ve even found myself doing it at other sporting events too. So I do try to control myself, but I do get involved a little bit.
Q: Any one particular incident that you can recall?
Wong: Not really. I’m still a little upset over the penalty against Ray Kaunisto this year for his hit against a Lake State player where he got the one game penalty from the conference. I actually did spend over an hour on the phone with the CCHA conference chairman.
Q: Do you travel to all of the regular season hockey games on the road?
Wong: No, I try to make it to all of the key ones. Like if we play at Miami and that kind of thing. I have tried to slip in and watch either of our basketball teams when we are away. The hockey games are really the only ones where I’ve made an effort to go with them. We usually try to tie in an alumni event with them.
Q: As president, what does it mean to you to see NMU programs get the kind of success they’ve had this year?
Wong: The coaches will tell you this, I’ve met with them over the years, and I’ve always told them that winning isn’t the top thing on my list, it’s about 6-7 on my list. But what I want to do is reassure the coaches and the players that every game is an opportunity to do your best. And that good coaching produces a lot of those opportunities, I think you win. I don’t know what’s happening magically, but this year, the sports teams have done really, really well. I think the focus of the coaches and the level at which coaching has matched up with student abilities.
Q: What would be numbers 1-5 on your list?
Wong: Number one is the experience. Number two is how do the athletes represent the school, how do they conduct themselves. Three is their studies. I am one of those presidents that review team GPAs, and individual athlete GPAs and academic progress, and graduation rates. High on my list is how do the student athletes engage the rest of the campus. One of my goals is that no part of campus is asylum from other parts. I don’t know if you know, I was a former tennis coach, so I know what it means to prepare athletes, and I ask myself about preparation, and then winning.
After the session, Dr. Wong had some things he wanted to say.
The student section during men and women’s basketball and hockey should be full. Soccer’s pretty crowded. This year was a telling year for me in a sense that the crowds got bigger, so I know that winning attracts people to it. Maybe I could have a dialogue with the students about that, ‘what does it take to get you to attend home games?’
My other gripe was I thought the tickets (for the NCAA hockey tournament) for students were too expensive.
I’m actually drafting a letter to the NCAA hockey committee, ‘If you want students in the stands you shouldn’t charge them what you’re charging them to get into regionals.’ In this economy and at this pay, you know you guys are forking out good money for tuition, and you’re traveling all the way down there, why would we charge that much money? I just thought it was reprehensible. It wasn’t like there was a shortage of tickets.