Larson looks to leave mark at Walla Walla University

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COLLEGE PLACE — New Walla Walla University athletic director Gerry Larson’s views on college sports are a little different.

Larson sees athletics as a co-curricular activity, he said.

Therefore, he believes sports can have a major impact on a person’s life.

Larson’s own experience in both coaching and enrollment recruiting allows him to connect with both coaches and students, he said.

“That type of thing it is just kind of a natural thing to me,” Larson said. “I don’t even think twice about that, I see the individuals and hopefully I have the impact on them that I strive to. I don’t see it as a real chore to interact with them at all.”

By building up a positive rapport with his athletes, Larson is hopeful their tenures at WWU will leave a lasting influence on their life. Larson’s own time at the school certainly benefited him, he said.

Both Larson and his wife, Lauri, graduated from WWU.

He said Walla Walla is a great place to raise his four kids and the move back was a no-brainer.

“It’s humbling,” Larson said. “This place has meant a lot to me. One of the better decisions I’ve ever made was to come to Walla Walla University. We moved back to the Valley in 2004 primarily because we met here, we love it here. We feel really blessed. We feel like we have an opportunity to give back to a community and institution that’s given an awful lot to us.”

Larson replaced Tim Windemuth, who retired in June after 30 years as WWU’s athletic director. Larson spent time as the assistant athletic director under Windemuth, along with stints as the men’s head basketball coach and a women’s assistant basketball coach.

He then joined the full-time staff at WWU as a recruiter in marketing and enrollment services in 2011. But, with Windemuth’s guidance, Larson made his way back to athletics.

“He’s a wonderful resource,” Larson said of Windemuth. “He cares a lot about this program. He cares a lot about the people he worked with here. I’m included. He’s one of the main reasons I attended Walla Walla University in the first place, because of the time he took to show me what the opportunities were here for me as a student. He’s very free about saying ‘this is how we did it and why’. It’s been very, very helpful.”

Larson’s experience as a coach also provides him with a different perspective on success. He understands the challenge of operating a sports program at a school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.

With that insight, Larson’s expectations revolve around student-athletes’ well being, rather than the results in the win-loss column.

“I know all of these things about where we are as a program,” Larson said. “In reality, those types of things don’t affect what we’re trying to do. Obviously, we have to have competent coaches, but a bad loss record isn’t going to get someone on the hot seat. We see success in a lot of different ways other than how the scoreboard is, or how our win-loss record is at the end of the year.”

Walla Walla University features women’s teams in softball, volleyball and basketball, and men’s teams in soccer and basketball.

With around 80 student-athletes in the program each year, Larson is looking to build upon the legacy his predecessor left.

“I want to continue the positive things that Tim was able to get going here,” Larson said. “A lot of people that I’ve gone to school with and worked with — he’s had a big impact on a lot of people. That’s a tough thing to follow but it’s a good thing to try and emulate.”

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