By Sagar Gaire
When thinking about sports at St. John’s, I remember the all college soccer match that happened at the start of the year. Since St. John’s is more popularly known for great books than great sports teams, I was surprised by the huge turnout of the students. I have come to find that St. John’s actually has a very strong athletic program, and this high turnout has continued at athletic events throughout the year. And every member of our community who has been involved in athletics can see the hard work that Chris Krueger, our Athletics and Recreational Director here in Annapolis, puts in to make these events successful. This spring, I got the chance to sit with Chris and talk about his personal background and the athletics program at St. John’s.
Chris is an alumnus of St. John’s College, having graduated from the Annapolis campus in 2007. Before coming to St. John’s, he attended a high school founded by three St. John’s graduates, (The New School in Newark, Delaware) and thus came to know about St. John’s in high school. Chris was very much involved in athletics during his time as a student at St. John’s and was one of the intramural captains himself, leading the Greenwaves. After graduating from the college, he coached high school soccer for some time and then came back to St. John’s as a member of the staff. He served as a senior resident for five years, before leaving to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Wichita State University. While in graduate school, Chris taught college composition classes for the English Department at Wichita State. He still felt a pull to athletics however, refereeing college soccer games throughout Kansas and Oklahoma. After receiving his degree in 2016, Chris returned to athletics full-time, becoming the Athletics and Recreation Coordinator at St. John’s, a position he had long called his dream job.
Chris’ favorite part of his work is the positive impact that sports at the college can have on students. He said, “The best part of my job is definitely working with the students on a daily basis and seeing the ways they grow, both in sports and outside of sports. Using the body—exploring its urges and learning to govern and quiet them—can help clear the mind and thereby help students succeed in their lives at the college, both academically and in general.”
Regarding the connection between athletics and academics, Chris remarked, “There are two primary ways in which the athletic program helps students with their studies. Firstly, sports can relieve stress and thereby help students focus. Secondly, the athletic program and especially the team sports elements of the athletic program are, in a way, another kind of laboratory from the one students experience in the academic program. Through sports at St. John’s, students can experiment—practically, and in real-time—with the ideas they are discussing in the academic program. For example, students can wonder whether each team member should have one job, like is suggested in the Republic might be appropriate in an ideal city. Or students might experience how the different categories of friendship discussed in the Nicomachean Ethics play out on the basketball court. Or students might be forced to try to forget that missed shot and live ahistorically, as Nietzsche might suggest one should.” And even these Program book examples, he notes, only begin to scratch the surface of “the various ways in which beauty and just the plain fun of inquiry appear in the athletic program. These are just some of the ways that the athletic program is an important part of the academic life of the college.”
Thinking about this intersection between the academic life of the college and the athletic life of the college, I asked Chris about long-term goals for the athletic program. “For a long time,” he said, “the college had no intercollegiate sports at all. One reason for this is that it was thought that by returning athletics to everyone—as opposed to doing what many schools do, which is leave athletics to a select few who were maybe “good” enough for scholarships—the benefits of athletics could be experienced by a greater amount of the college community. In keeping with that spirit, the main goal I have is to continue to make small tweaks to increase the number of people interested in participating in the athletic program.”
I asked Chris what specifically he has in mind. “The past few years have seen great increases across all aspects of the program,” he said, “and I’d really like to see Kunai, the college’s women’s league, continue to grow at the great pace it has been growing recently. I’d also very much like to see more students take advantage of the college’s water programs—whether with the crew team; the sailing team; or just recreationally on a canoe, kayak, or paddle-board. The Chesapeake Bay is a truly lovely place, as well as an important resource, and it would be unfortunate for any student to leave the college without exploring that body of water and seeing the campus and the city from the water. After all, the first two books encountered in seminar both involve substantial interaction with boats and the sea. Through the athletic program, students can more thoroughly imagine how it might have felt to be looking over foreign land from the water.” And that, Chris notes, may be the best way to think of athletics here at St. John’s: “the athletic program offers another way to really feel the intellectual life of the college.”