SPSCC Celebrates New Athletic Director and Wellness Center

SPSCC Athletic director
SPSCC’s new athletic director, Vernell Willingham, cannot wait to continue the upward trajectory the last athletic director started. Photo credit: South Puget Sound Community College

The faculty, students and staff at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) are excited about the future of their athletics, health and wellness departments as the school continues to grow. In line with the college’s vision to continually support student success and build prosperity through innovation, the college plans to construct a new Health and Wellness Center to better serve students. The college has also recently welcomed a new athletic director whose long history with the school will be an asset moving forward.

New Health and Wellness Center

The brand new Health and Wellness Center is a symbol of the school’s dedication to furthering student opportunities. The student-led initiative to build a new center was passed by student vote and approved by the college’s Board of Trustees. It’s a project that was started by the former ASB president and athletic director and will now be completed by a new team over the course of several years.

SPSCC Wellness center
This rendering is the earliest proposed design for the new Health & Wellness Center that is awaiting approval. Photo credit: South Puget Sound Community College

Current ASB President Jessica Wilkins took on the project mid-year and was responsible for helping inform students prior to voting. “She did a fantastic job taking the leadership role and working on how to make this project happen during her term,” says Jennifer Manley, SPSCC dean of student engagement. “This included making sure all the information was disseminated to the student body with adequate space for feedback before the referendum.”

The size of the current gymnasium (building 31) has been sufficient in the past, but as the college’s health and wellness programs—and athletics programs—continue to grow, students saw a need to make a change.  “We are really starting to hit our stride and are on an upward trajectory as a whole,” says Manley. “With the accomplishments of the men’s basketball team and our inaugural volleyball season, there is a community vibe and spirit that we are on the uphill climb. We are really excited to see what’s next, including a new center that meets our students’ needs.”

SPSCC summer camp
SPSCC’s new facility will support athletic teams, such as the new women’s volleyball team, as well as the student population as a whole seeking a healthy, active lifestyle. Photo credit: Melanie Miller

True to their vision, the new center will not just be for the athletes, but for the entire student body. “The students were very clear they did not want to call it a gym,” Manley says. “So then it became ‘how do we make this a space that will be beneficial to all the students?’”

The answer was a comprehensive Health and Wellness Center to help the entire SPSCC community live healthier lives. There will be space for different fitness classes, including recreational classes. They will have more weight rooms and space for intramural programs where students can engage with other students in an active way. Finally, initial designs include comfy seating areas so students can build healthy emotional relationships, as well, and, of course, a coffee bar.  It’s a holistic approach to making sure the students at SPSCC are healthy mentally, physically and emotionally.

Currently, the college is waiting for approval from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which they expect to hear by fall 2017. If approved, the project will proceed with an expected completion in summer 2020. As they move forward, the college will continue to ask for the students’ feedback and they have student leaders on the design committee so that they can be involved in the entire process.

A Passionate New Athletic Director

Vernell Willingham has a long history with SPSCC and Clipper Athletics. He graduated from North Thurston High School in 1994. While there, he played football and basketball. After high school, Willingham was a walk-on player for the SPSCC men’s basketball team. He played for the Clippers from 1997 to 1999.

SPSCC athletic director
Vernell Willingham, seen here in 1997 and twenty years later in 2017, is a Clipper through and through. Photo courtesy: SPSCC

In 1999, he began working for SPSCC in the athletic department as a part-time game management coordinator until he became a full-time office assistant in 2002. Three years ago, Willingham was made the assistant athletic director at the college. In total, he has two decades of experience with SPSCC. His passion for the school, the students and the community shines through in everything he does.

“I was one of those student athletes and so I understand the pros and cons of being one at the two-year college level,” Willingham explains. “I can help them with any situation that might arise, both within the department and with students individually.”

Willingham assumed his new role in June 2017 and plans to apply his experience toward the success of the athletics program.  “Having someone who has worked here for so long that understands our athletic policies, procedures and guidelines is priceless,” says Manley.  “He not only wants to help the students, but has the knowledge to make it happen within our college.”

SPSCC Athletic director
SPSCC’s new athletic director, Vernell Willingham, cannot wait to continue the upward trajectory the last athletic director started. Photo credit: South Puget Sound Community College

Willingham is most excited about being able to continue to help students achieve their goals in both athletics and academics. “I am excited about a lot of things, but continuing to work with the coaches and student athletes is the main one,” he says. “I was a student here and played here, so helping them navigate through it is the most exciting thing for me.”

To learn about the classes and programs at SPSCC, visit the SPSCC website. Up to date information on the new Health and Wellness Center can be found here.


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