The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the July/August issue Campus Rec spoke with John Sweeney, the director of Recreational Sports at Marquette University.
1. How did you get started in the industry?
I attended San Francisco State University where I played football. Team members encouraged me to join a recreation fraternity. I had no idea there was such a thing as a recreation major. I quickly looked into the program and by the second semester of my freshman year, I had chosen recreation as my major. Then I transferred to the College of Idaho and enrolled in their recreation program. After being injured, I became the Intramural director, which was run by the students. I really enjoyed the campus recreation experience and attended the NIRSA national conference in San Diego the spring semester of my senior year. I went onto grad school at Texas Tech University and received my master’s degree. My first full-time job was at Marquette University as the Intramural director.
2. How would you go about describing campus recreation at Marquette University?
Marquette was the first Jesuit school in the country to build a recreation center for the general student body in 1975. Campus rec has been alive and well on this campus for 45-plus years but has been in dire need of new state-of-the-art rec facilities. Fortunately, I am happy to report we are in the midst of embarking on a major renovation of our existing facility — which will be a wellness and recreation center to include Rec Sports, the Student Health Clinic and the Counseling Center.
3. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career?
Without a doubt dealing with the COVID-19 crisis was the biggest challenge of my rec sports career. At the time the crisis began, campus shut down, including our rec facilities. Half of my staff were furloughed and the other half of us were reassigned to other areas on campus. We were closed for four to five months. When we did reopen there was the added challenge of preparing the facilities to be COVID-19 friendly — safe distancing, eliminating many of our programs, proper signage throughout buildings, special staff training, etc.
4. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
No. 1 is to be able and healthy enough to work as long as I have in the field of recreation. I have worked at five different institutions during my career and have enjoyed the experiences at each one. Working with so many great staff and students over the years has been very rewarding. In 2020, I received the NIRSA Regional Award of Merit.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other recreation professionals might benefit from?
Always say “yes” when asked to any reasonable request for use of facilities, staff involvement, programs, etc. It’s most important to have the view on campus as a “team player,” and we are to help/assist/collaborate whenever we can. It’s a positive reputation that we enjoy and work hard to maintain.
6. What is one fun fact about yourself others may not know?
Most of my career in recreation has been in campus rec — Texas Tech University, Northern Illinois University and Marquette University — but I have also worked as the director of a private city club at the Milwaukee Athletic Club and as the executive director of a large soccer organization, the Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club.