Douglas grad has gone the extra mile
Theresa Walton-Fisette has covered a considerable amount of ground these past 30 years, from Douglas High School to the campus of Kent State University, and much more.
The 1989 Douglas graduate’s path as student, athlete and educator has taken her to Southern Oregon University, where she was an NAIA national championship runner and Academic All-American, on to her present role as sociology of sport professor at Kent State.
Walton-Fisette received her master’s degree in 2000 and doctorate in 2002 in cultural studies from the University of Iowa and has taught at Kent State since 2003, attaining her promotion to professor earlier this year.
Among other things during that time, she has examined media discourse of Title IX and sport, work that applies to the “Sport in Media” class she now teaches.
“In my media class right now, my final question was, ‘If you could recommend a couple of changes to ESPN that would make sport coverage better?’ Almost every student is saying more coverage of women’s sport and I have mostly male students, which is interesting, she said.”
Walton-Fisette, who has served as president of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, points out that Title IX has had its biggest impact on education.
“I think sport has kind of got the public attention, but the law really has the biggest impact on education, and I’m a perfect example of that,” she said. “My athletic opportunities, my educational opportunities, all of that — 20 years ago there wouldn’t have been a woman teaching sport administration classes — and I think part of that was Title IX coming when people were more ready to make those changes.”
On Dec. 5, Walton-Fisette was in Cleveland as part of an Ethics in Sports Panel that discussed such topics as the Department of Justice investigation into college athletics and concussion protocol. An audience of attorneys, parents, school board members, coaches and professionals involved with the sports entertainment and media industries were on hand for the discussion, which was hosted by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.
Protocol regarding the return of student-athletes to competition was discussed, however, Walton-Fisette has concerns about returning to class after a concussion.
“That is really interesting because a lot of places have return to play (protocol), but then you’re expected to go back to class 100 percent right away which is kind of crazy,” she said. “You can’t see it and there’s no way to really check what’s going on other than symptoms.”
She added that two of the panel members who teach at the Sport and Entertainment Institute explained they have heard of athletes on their first Baseline test purposely react slowly in order to improve their chances to return from a head injury.
“That attitude is not helpful in terms of people’s own health and safety,” she said. “That clearly shows a lot more work needs to be done in terms of getting the players themselves to buy into this idea that they should be thinking about their long-term health consequences.”
In July 2016, a $75 million settlement was granted preliminary approval by a federal court judge in a class-action concussions case against the NCAA. As part of the settlement, the NCAA has begun preseason baseline testing for all athletes, require schools to have concussion-trained medical personnel at all contact-sport games and ban athletes with concussions from returning to play on the day of their injuries.
The settlement, however, is still awaiting decisions in other personal injury lawsuits against the NCAA as well as some schools and conferences.
“They didn’t look at women’s sport at all and there’s a pending case because the NCAA doesn’t allow women’s players to wear helmets in lacrosse,” she said.
The panel was scheduled to cover issues regarding youth athletes and coaches in relation to ethical influences from professional sports, however, time ran out before that discussion began. Walton-Fisette has a vested interest in youth sports, professionally and from the viewpoint of a mother with two children.
“The thing that concerns me about ethics in youth sports are two things,” she said. “One is the crazy specialization we expect from kids now. It just leads to burnout and injury. I’m more in favor for younger kids to be exposed to multiple things and still having time for their own down time, to have unstructured time.”
Another area of concern, she added, is how expensive youth sport has become in regard to parents who must decide whether to spend thousands of dollars to pay for private coaching and club sport programs to improve the opportunities for their children to participate on high school varsity teams and theoretically improve their opportunities to earn college scholarships.
“The thing that concerns me about that is most kids are never going to go and play college sports and even fewer of those will go on to become professional athletes,” she said. “But it’s all the kids who then just do not do anything. They’re not physically active, they don’t have that social outlet because they’re getting that message already if you’re not a superstar by the time you’re like 12 years old, sports are not for you because we’re becoming a nation of spectators instead of participants.”
IN THE LONG RUN
Theresa Walton achieved success as a high school runner — the 1986 Douglas girls team placed third at the state cross country meet — and even more success academically with a 4.27 cumulative grade point average that ranked near the top of her class. She continued to improve at Southern Oregon, setting school records in the marathon (2:58:32) and 10,000 meters (37:00.97) and winning the NAIA national marathon championship as a senior in 1994. Later, she ran a 2:51 that nearly met the qualifying standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials Women’s Marathon and was inducted into Southern Oregon’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
More of a recreational runner these days — though she hopes to train for a trail 50K in the coming year — Walton-Fisette has stayed in touch with the sport through her writing. Among her published work has been “Steve Prefontaine: From rebel with a cause to bourgeois hero” toward her master’s degree at Iowa in 2000 as well as “Split Between Nations: Tracking the Transnational Identity of Sydney Maree,” published in 2009.
Her favorite? Look no further than Maree, a native of South Africa who attended Villanova University, set the world record for 1,500 meters in 1983 and later became an American record holder for 1,500 and 5,000 meters.
“I hope I can go back to it and write a book-length manuscript about Sydney Maree,” she replied. “That was awesome because I got to go to South Africa and meet him. His story is so compelling and he’s such a great guy. And the great thing is how his story aligned with what was happening between South Africa and the U.S. on the global scale and seeing that particular impact on one particular person.”