The Cardinal Rules of Risk-Taking

University of Louisville

Albert Einstein once said, “A ship is always safe at shore — but that is not what it is built for.” This quote rings true for Dale Ramsay, the Director of Intramural and Recreational Sports at the University of Louisville. Throughout his career, Ramsay has learned that often the biggest risks lead to the greatest rewards. 

Growing up in a small town in New Hampshire, Ramsay never imagined he would move to a city such as Louisville, Kentucky, to pursue a career. His graduating high school class consisted of only 19 people. Ramsay went on to attend Keene State College, with an enrollment of around 2,000 students, where he planned to pursue a career as a PE teacher or basketball coach.

“One day my senior year, one of my professors asked me if I would be interested in going to graduate school at the University of Louisville and working in the Intramural Department,” said Ramsay. “I came to Louisville during Kentucky Derby week and was sold.”

Ramsay was offered the position, so he packed his bags and took the risk of moving to a new city that was starkly different from the one he grew up in. “It was a big deal for someone who grew up in a small town in New Hampshire to come to Louisville,” he said. “Nineteen kids in my graduating class, and I am now working in a city that has a million people. It was a big culture shock. But I was willing to take the risk. It would have been easy for me not to. I could have gotten a job teaching or coaching and probably would have been content, but I knew if I didn’t take this opportunity I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Just as Einstein eluded to, ships are not meant to stay at shore. And Ramsay was not meant to stay in New Hampshire.

His decision to move is one that paid off in many ways. He has been at the University of Louisville for over 37 years, serving many unique roles. After completing his graduate assistantship, Ramsay was hired as the assistant director, but one year later he was quickly made Director of Intramural and Recreational Sports.

“So at the ripe old age of 26 I became director,” explained Ramsay. “I was lucky that we didn’t have a lot back then. We were working out of Crawford Gym. We had about six full-time staff and about 30 student staff. Now we are 15 full-time and have about 200 student staff.”

Even though when he first assumed the position Ramsay was young and inexperienced, over the past three decades he has garnered the respect of his colleagues and the university community.

“I always joke that I am going to retire, but the reason I don’t is because of the person I report to, as well as the people I work with,” said David Hatfield, the Associate Director of Facility Operations. “Dale is honest and an excellent communicator. And he never procrastinates. If we have a task, we are going to do it and turn it in a week early. In his positon you have to think outside of the box, especially with tight budgets, but Dale always gets input from students and the staff.”

University of Louisville

Ramsay has served as the Director of Intramural and Recreational Sports for the past 34 years. He is a first-hand testament for how campus recreation can transform a campus. As he explained, when he first took over the position, the department operated out of Crawford Gym, which consisted of two gym floors and a small weight room. Then in 1990 they opened the Student Activity Center, which according to Ramsay, was an incredible facility at the time — it was just too small.

The University of Louisville had traditionally been a commuter campus, but they had extensive plans to grow enrollment and resident life on campus. With the university’s desire to expand came the need to provide a better quality of life for students, so in 2013 the brand-new, $38-million Student Recreation Center (SRC) was constructed. “You look at the university’s plan to grow enrollment and to get a better quality of student, and you need to have the amenities they want,” said Ramsay. “You need to have the housing, food and recreation. The SRC was the crown jewel to tie all of the new housing development together.”

The 129,400-square-foot facility features multiple group fitness studios, 14,000 square feet of strength training and cardio space, indoor MAC court, golf simulator, racquetball and squash courts, and six basketball courts — three on the first floor, with three more stacked directly on top on the third floor with views overlooking the city.

“The opening of the SRC has been a tremendous change,” said Dr. Michael Mardis, the Dean of Students and Vice Provost for Student Affairs. “In our previous facilities we did not have enough space to meet the demand. Now, with the number of students we are serving and the programming we have been able to offer, it has been exciting to be a part of that. And this is running alongside the growth that we have seen in terms of the quality of our incoming students and the number of students residing on campus. Over the last 10 years we have seen tremendous growth in our campus life experience at the university. It is exciting to see how much campus is booming.”

As Ramsay explained, the opening of the SRC brought vibrancy to the campus that did not exist before. It has enhanced the on-campus experience and provides a healthy outlet for students, faculty and staff. In fact, the University of Louisville was recently named one of the nation’s top 25 healthiest colleges.

“With the building of the SRC, you can see how it enhances our program totally,” said Hatfield. “For the first time our intramurals, club sports and informal recreation are all under one roof. Students are excited about coming here. In the ’90s our tour groups would not bring students around the old facility because we didn’t compare to the other universities in the state. But now they either start or finish here, which is pretty neat. It is nice to see that activity here.”

With this increased growth in student engagement opportunities, the University of Louisville campus is abuzz with excitement. According to Mardis, the number of student organizations on campus have increased from 200 to 425 over the last 10 years. And the SRC has played an enormous role in providing students with an exciting and engaging campus experience. “Intramural and Recreational Sports has transformed the campus life and the out-of-classroom experience for our students at the University of Louisville,” added Ramsay. “We know we are improving the lives of our students.”

Emily Harbourne is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at emily@peakemedia.com.

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