Why are you a campus recreation professional? This is a question I think about frequently; not because I don’t enjoy my job, but because I love it. It’s not a career that pops up on aptitude tests, my high school guidance counselor didn’t mention a thing about it, and there wasn’t a dedicated major for it at my undergrad university. So, how did I end up in such an amazing field seemingly by accident?

I hope that when you ponder this question, people come to mind like they do for me. If so, I am sure that a select few people were especially instrumental in carving your path into NIRSA and campus recreation. For me, none have been more pivotal than our current NIRSA President, David Davenport.

About David

David Davenport has been The Director of University Recreation at Austin Peay State University, in Clarksville, TN since March 2003. As the Director, David’s initial tasks were to accomplish three goals: 1) build a program from the ground up; 2) build a team of recreation leaders and 3) build a new facility—all of which was solidified within five years when University Recreation at Austin Peay State University opened a new facility in January 2007.

A native of Atlanta GA, David previously held the responsibilities of Assistant Director of Recreational Sports at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA where he also earned his Master of Science in Education while working as a graduate assistant. Prior to attending Old Dominion, David worked at a private school for boys in Winchester, VA where he utilized the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree which he earned from Appalachian State University. It was at Appalachian State University where he was introduced to collegiate recreation as a participant first, and later as a student employee.

David has been a member of NIRSA since 1989 when he was on the host team of a NC State Workshop followed by attending his first NIRSA Region II Conference. David has been involved ever since, contributing in a variety of capacities to NIRSA, including but not limited to:

  • At Large Member with the Board of Directors from 2015-present
  • Member Network Region II Rep from 2009-2011
  • Virginia State (VRSA) Director
  • Hosted state workshops in Tennessee and Virginia
  • Committee chair, member and advisor to the People of Color Social, Emerging Recreation Sports Conference
  • Committee member to the Nominations and Elections (currently known as the Nominations and Appointment); Facilities Management and Programs Service Awards

From 2015 to 2019, David’s responsibilities were enhanced by the additional role of Chief Diversity Officer for Austin Peay State University, which allowed him to be more intentional in his growth in leadership and administration.

David’s pastimes include spending time with his family, namely his 20-year daughter and 25-year-old son; officiating basketball, wrestling, and baseball; being a member of Rotary and his fraternity (Kappa Alpha Psi); and traveling.

Impact of leadership

David runs the ship as Director of University Recreation at Austin Peay State University, where I was an undergrad. I had the privilege of working under his leadership for five years (gotta love the senior year victory lap), and his leadership still impacts me all these years later.

I remember my first Davidism—wisdom he frequently imparts on those around him—at an employee training: “If I have to do your job, I don’t need you.” Harsh, but very true words to consider on your first day. This very much shaped my work ethic and leadership—teamwork, accountability, and straightforwardness can all be learned from this quote alone. And like all great leaders, David was shaped by and learned from those before him.

“My Davidisms started with Kevin Marbury and his Kevinisms,” explains David. Though he acknowledges that Kevin didn’t necessarily call them that. “One of the first things Kevin said to us when he came on board at Old Dominion was ‘If I have to do your job, I don’t need you.’” See, Kevin said this same thing to David on his first day at Old Dominion. When leadership is done right, it is impactful and it has a ripple effect.

Another Davidism I find reflected in my own leadership is his ‘A to Z mentality’: “Everyone is going to learn something different and has a different way to get to an end result, so let people be creative. Let them figure things out and help them along the way.” This reflects so much of how David approaches leadership. He adds, “You can’t put my leadership style in a box. I adjust to the surroundings and to the students. I don’t think you can put people in a box.”

I can speak firsthand to the impact David has on students and professionals with this mentality and approach. David allowed me to figure things out on my own and built up enough trust in our relationship that when he finally suggested campus recreation as a career path, I didn’t completely dismiss him. He didn’t force campus rec on me, he laid it out as an option and let me find my own way there—like all the best mentors do.

Perhaps the Davidism most important to his presidency right now is “Find a reason why we can instead of reasons why we can’t.” We have all been faced with challenges this year new and old, and it’s easy to get caught up in the mountain of reasons why we can’t do something. Yet this Davidism challenges us to find ways around, under, and through the barriers we have all run across while trying to address systemic racism and provide a quality experience to students during COVID, whatever that means. “It’s so easy to tell people why we can’t do something. Let’s figure out a way [that] we can do it. Campus rec is such a unique environment. There is always a way to make it work,” says David.

This flexibility in problem solving has served him well in his presidency as he navigates the various daily and professional life challenges. And it has served as an example for the rest of us who are also trying to pivot and adjust to what’s thrown at us. The best leaders always model the way.

David’s call to service

When I asked David why he volunteers for NIRSA, his answer was simple. “It’s a two-way street. We have talents that NIRSA can utilize, and as a volunteer there are aspects of NIRSA that you will learn and take back to make your university stronger,” he explains. David believes and preaches that campus recreation is a place where an individual can gain transferable skills as well as see transferable skills develop in others. And he recognizes how valuable transferable skills are to a professional, no matter what profession they end up pursuing. “Not everyone stays in campus rec, but they still take campus rec with them,” says David. He hopes that young leaders in NIRSA can discover their potential, as many of them aren’t aware of it until they are in the right environment. And with all of the volunteer opportunities NIRSA has to offer, the right environment is out there for everyone.

With this perspective, his hope for young leaders in NIRSA is simple: “Be better than me. Be the next better person.” David reinforces through relationships that is it not just about what you do at work. It’s showing you care about people that truly makes an impact. I still experience this personally even though I haven’t worked for David in over a decade; a few years ago, I lost my little sister to a drunk driver. David was one of the first people to reach out and check in on me. He continued to do so throughout the weeks and months that followed, and he even checked in with me before we started our interview for this article. Those types of relationships and connections having lasting impacts on people. So why am I a campus rec professional? Easy—because of people like David.

  • If you are interested in highlighting your campus or a NIRSA member’s achievements on your campus, pitch us your ideas.
Assistant Director of Competitive Sports at University of Wisconsin-Madison | NIRSA Profile

Ashley Lax is currently the Assistant Director of Sport Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; you can reach out to her on NIRSA Connect.