Fullerton, Calif. - The Cal State Fullerton Athletic Department ushered in the 2012-13 academic school year by hosting its annual Welcome Back Barbecue Sunday afternoon.
The event, held in the Titan Student Union and catered by Outback Steakhouse in Brea, brought together nearly 400 Titan student-athletes, coaches and staff under one roof to meet and get reacquainted with each other on the eve of the new semester.
Interim Athletic Director, Steve Walk, opened and closed the hour-long block of speakers and presentations and set the tone for the night with his opening words.
"This is a particularly special year for us in athletics and at the university since we are welcoming new campus leadership, taking stock of our current operations and honoring those who have done so much to contribute to our success."
Following an introduction of university representatives and athletic department administration in attendance, Walk invited the new Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Berenecea Johnson Eanes to address the group.
Eanes got the attention of the audience by dispelling any worry that athletics was not a priority at the highest level on campus.
"The President [Dr. Mildred Garcia] and I understand that because of the nature of change, and the wind that is blowing, that you may be concerned," said Eanes.
"Concern is warranted, but fear is not needed," she said. "We are here to serve you. Do not worry. We will all be fine. Am I clear?"
Her emphatic question sparked a large round of applause to which she followed, "We believe in students, we believe in student-athletes, we believe in this university, and we believe in you. We know that the coaches and the staff of this esteemed program will continue to do what is needed to keep us striving to be the best."
Senior Associate Athletic Director, Steve DiTolla, talked to the athletes about the focus of the department and the goals for the upcoming year.
"I am real excited about the energy in this room," said DiTolla. " We here at Cal State Fullerton have a very proud tradition. We have, over the years, accomplished an awful lot with limited resources. And our focus has always been on what we have and not the have not. We hope that continues.
"With everything that we have accomplished, sometimes we feel like we are not very well known. Not even on our own campus. And I think that is our goal as a program over the next year and beyond is to make sure that our campus is very proud of us."
DiTolla then went on to present a video narrated by former Titan basketball star, Cedric Ceballos, that highlighted past and present Titans, their stories and experiences from Cal State Fullerton and the impact the Titan athletes make on the surrounding communities.
The video (embeded below) threw a spotlight on numerous Titan community service efforts. After the video, Interim Faculty Athletic Representative, Dr. Betty Chavis, presented the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) – on behalf of all the student-athletes – The Community Service Award with distinction from the President of the United States.
"I think if you watch the video, you see all of the things you athletes are doing," said Chavis. "You make us proud. The faculty here is very proud of you for all the work that you do both on and off the field. But the things you do for community service will follow you wherever you go, the rest of your life. Whether you continue on in sports or not, it will certainly be a part of your hearts forever."
The award, received by the new SAAC President Miguel Eizenga (Track & Field) and new Vice President Kirsten Lambertson (Softball), was the fifth consecutive honor that the Cal State Fullerton campus has received and the third in the last five years to receive distinction.
Women's basketball Head Coach, Marcia Foster, spoke on behalf of the athletic department and gave former athletic director, Brian Quinn, a proper send off. Foster eloquently intertwined Quinn’s career within the department with life lessons for the student-athletes.
"As I prepared to speak to you today, I found it so very interesting that the thoughts that came into my mind about Brian, were the things that, we as coaches, aspire to pour into your lives besides the sports that we are all so passionate about," said Foster. " Things like character, honesty, commitment, trustworthiness, loyalty and love.
"Brian, we know it wasn't easy to stand up for the challenges that we faced as an athletic department. It is always easier to talk as if you were in somebody else's shoes, than it is to walk in someone else's shoes. You had some very good shoes to fill and you did so with integrity and class. You stood when it wasn't popular to stand and sometimes we got what we needed, and sometimes we didn't. But you stood.
"Thank you for hoping for the best, weathering the worst, for caring and letting us know that you cared. Thank you for leading from the heart.”
After the standing ovation for the long-standing athletic director had subsided, the SAAC representatives then presented Quinn with the inaugural "Brian Quinn Sportsmanship Award" which will be presented annually to a deserving individual at the Welcome Back Barbecue.
After Dr. Walk expressed his gratitude toward Quinn, he wrapped up the presentations with some closing statements, echoing Dr. Eades’ sentiment. Walk stated, "In the face of looming and possibly unprecedented budget cuts in a couple of months, the leaders of our university have reaffirmed a commitment to Division I athletics. Not only in statement, but in actions, and have pledged to do so in the coming months and years."
Citing the most recent expansion of the Big West Conference, Walk explained, "They did this because they know... we know... that you can compete at these levels and be successful. The best way to prepare yourself for these challenges is to embrace every opportunity this university presents you. Give each one of them all you have.
"You represent the one percent of high school athletes that advance to the Division I level. While you share many things in common with your fellow students here at Cal State Fullerton, there is something your coaches recognized about you that set you apart.
"Show your fellow students how to manage time. Work hard in the face of being tired, under pressure and sometimes in pain. Show them what it means to balance passion with discipline, while having to do what you do while being subject to public scrutiny."
The Titans begin their 2012-13 academic year Monday morning.