Dan Swalga at Highmark Stadium on Pittsburgh's South Side, directly across the river from Point Park's campus.
Within the last few years, Point Park Athletics has joined a new conference, added new sports teams and adopted new home facilities. During this time, the Pioneers have achieved some of their best success ever. Many of the Pioneers teams are competing for conference championships, and several have represented the school in NAIA national tournaments in recent years. Indeed, Pioneers fans have plenty to be proud of. Director of Athletics at Point Park for the last eight years, Dan Swalga came to campus prior to the 2006-07 school year. Swalga was honored as the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) Athletics Director of the Year for 2013-14. He talked with The Point to share his thoughts on Pioneers Athletics for alumni and fans:
How would you describe the current state of Point Park University Athletics?
DS: I believe we are on the cusp of greatness. Many of our teams and coaches have experienced competing on the national level in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and they are learning what it takes. We all have to work harder to get to the next level, and we have the staff to do just that. We have great resources from the administration, and we are built for success. The Point Park community should be happy with our recent past and excited about our future.
With recent success of Point Park teams, winning conference titles and qualifying for NAIA national tournaments, what has been the best part of that from your perspective as director of athletics?
DS: Watching our student-athletes and coaches competing at the national level. They work so hard to get there, and although we haven’t been as successful as we’ve wanted [at national tournaments], watching them enjoy that moment is great. At the end of the day, we’ve won our conference, and it is satisfying to see our kids celebrating in the middle of the court or field. I can’t describe the smiles and sense of relief. I want all of our teams to experience that.
What do students get out of the student-athlete experience, and how does it add to the overall college experience?
DS: The college experience is greatly enhanced in many ways by being a student-athlete. There are opportunities to experience things that you never would otherwise, such as: the bond of competing as a team, representing your school, traveling across the country, and sharing in the joy of a championship. And you also learn great time management and learn to achieve highly to the best of your ability. These are the things we hope our student-athletes experience here at Point Park.
Describe the significance of Point Park being accepted into the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) starting with the 2012-13 school year.
DS: Being accepted by, and joining, the KIAC as a conference member was hugely important. There are many advantages of being in a conference, such as making scheduling easier and being eligible for the KIAC’s automatic bids to NAIA tournaments. It is much better than being NAIA independent institution, for which you lose in scheduling and NAIA bids. And the KIAC provides us with a competitive league, so it was a ‘win’ for us in many ways to join the conference.
Why did Point Park join the KIAC? What went into that decision?
DS: The need for a new conference came about when the American Mideast Conference folded after the 2011-12 school year. We had been in the AMC since 1999. We didn’t leave the AMC as much as the AMC left us – many schools left for NCAA DII or DIII. We explored all options, beginning in 2010, such as other NAIA conferences, NAIA independent or NCAA. After a long process, we felt the best option was to join the KIAC and remain NAIA.
Point Park has been a member of the NAIA for its entire 47-year history of competition versus four-year schools. Why is the NAIA a great fit for Pioneers athletics?
DS: The NAIA is a great fit for schools of our size and athletic makeup. The NAIA gives us the opportunity to offer athletic scholarships, unlike a lot of schools of our size that are NCAA Division III. That allows us to get a higher caliber of athlete while at the same time giving the opportunity to succeed here academically with a smaller school and more attention and time spent on class work. And the NAIA Champions of Character program emphasizes all that is right with collegiate athletics. We try to achieve those goals.
Point Park Athletics has never experienced such balanced success across all sports than right now. How has that come about?
DS: A big part of it is coaching – we have a great staff of coaches who not only know what they are doing, but they have been in their roles for several years. I don’t know that Point Park has ever had this much stability in its coaching staff, especially with that being true for all sports and instead of just a few. And the support from the administration has allowed all sports a chance to compete with the scholarship structure the way it is.
In recent years, Point Park Athletics has experienced some great gains with the home venues of its teams, such as the on-campus Student Center Gym for volleyball, Point Park Field at Green Tree Park for baseball, and Highmark Stadium for men’s and women’s soccer. What have these facilities brought to the department?
DS: They’ve brought collegiate-level facilities for our student-athletes to enjoy, and a better experience for those sports teams involved because we aren’t traveling as far as in the past. When I first arrived, we were playing baseball in Butler (36 miles) and Washington, Pa. (30 miles) and soccer in Cheswick, Pa. (19 miles). Highmark Stadium is a 15-minute walk from campus and Green Tree Park is about three miles. And playing volleyball on campus in the Student Center Gym is the first time this school has had intercollegiate athletic events on campus. This makes less stress on our players and coaches and improves their quality of life.
Describe your thoughts on the addition of men’s and women’s golf teams in 2009, and men’s and women’s track and field teams in 2014.
DS: The addition of these sports has added to the profile of athletics at Point Park and given us more opportunity to succeed. These sports have championships in the KIAC and the NAIA, so our student-athletes have an opportunity to compete nationally. Along with cross-country, these sports are about individual competition, which is unique and different from our team sports. We’ve added about 80 student-athletes to our department as well.
What would you like to say to Point Park Athletics alumni? What does a strong group of athletics alums do for an athletics department?
DS: I’d hope that they would be interested in reconnecting, or staying connected, to our programs. Our recent success has been built off of their good work and efforts as student-athletes while they were here. We need them to share their wisdom with our current student-athletes and coaches. They are always welcome, and we’ve been making a concerted effort to encourage their involvement.
What does the future hold for Pioneers Athletics?
DS: The immediate future for athletics involves managing our growth. We’ve grown tremendously, so now we have to get our resources to meet that level of growth so that we can continue to provide the best experience possible for our student-athletes. In addition to men’s and women’s golf and men’s and women’s track and field, we’ve also added JV programs in baseball, women’s basketball and soccer.
What is your favorite part of being director of athletics at Point Park?
DS: This is an easy answer. My favorite part is watching the personal growth I see in our student-athletes and watching the passion of our coaches and players as they work to succeed. Watching players work hard in their sport, connect to Point Park, and do great in their academics is extremely satisfying. I always say that we are in the business of education, not in creating professional athletes. I think for the most part we embrace that concept in our department. I love watching our kids compete
Interview by Kevin Taylor, director of athletics communications
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University