STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton State University’s School of Kinesiology, part of the College of Education and Human Development, is celebrating 100 years of preparing students for the workforce at Saturday’s Texans football matchup with New Mexico Highlands.
Tarleton’s iconic smokestack will be lit to mark the occasion. The celebration will feature pregame and game-time activities, and the School of Kinesiology will be recognized in a series of videos featuring alumni and faculty.
“It’s crazy cool to think about something that has lasted that long,” said Regents Professor Steve Simpson. “That’s not to mention the number of people who have come through the program.”
“This kind of longevity shows we’ve had really good leadership,” said Dr. Matt Laurent, Interim Associate Dean of the school. “We’re relevant — we prepare professionals to go into the real world and do great things. It shows, as a discipline, that we are adaptable and respond to the demands of the profession.”
In 1905, while the university was still a two-year college, students were already enrolled in physical training classes. In 1921 those classes officially became the Department of Physical Training, graduating its first students in 1923. The department’s name has changed through the years, to Physical Education, to Exercise Science and Sports Studies, and finally, in 2018 to the School of Kinesiology.
Through most of the program’s 100 years, instructors were mainly coaches. In fact, until 2013 all Tarleton coaches also taught classes in the department.
The program moved into Wisdom Gym in 1970, when the building was completed with the help of some hard-working department employees. At the time, faculty members were paid for nine months per year, leaving some to scramble for summer paychecks.
Dr. Joe Gillespie joined his colleagues in the Department of Physical Education to help erect the gym. He was a teacher, coach, athletic director and department head in his 44 years at Tarleton. He retired in 2017.
“These men were not only foundational in the sense of teaching and coaching during that time frame,” said Dr. Kayla Peak, former Associate Dean in the School of Kinesiology and currently Interim Dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services. “They were also the builders of the physical structure.”
A century after the Department of Physical Training was created, the School of Kinesiology boasts more than 1,000 students, almost evenly split between allied health majors and sports-related majors.
“Just about 50 percent of our students study to become physical therapists, occupational therapists, physician assistants, doctors and chiropractors,” Dr. Peak said. “They also focus on athletic training or strength and conditioning. The other half of our majors are in sports management, sport administration, coaching and recreation.”
The importance of the milestone is not lost on longtime Tarleton faculty.
“It’s a momentous occasion to have survived name changes from the old ‘physical education’ days up to more recently becoming known as kinesiology,” said Dr. Joe Priest, a Tarleton professor for 30 years and Director of the Laboratory for Wellness and Motor Behavior.
“It’s a fun profession. We’re growing. We’re preparing our students for everything from leading a fitness center to going to medical school.”
Marking 100 years means many things to those who have invested their careers in kinesiology.
“It’s about legacy,” Dr. Peak said. “We go back to 1905 when we started offering physical training classes, so the legacy of the faculty and the students has led us to continue based on what those instructors and students built.”
In its first century the department, now school, has enjoyed a number of firsts that are crucial to the history of Tarleton.
The first African-American student to receive a Tarleton degree was Sherman Perry, a kinesiology major. A member of the Tarleton Athletics Hall of Fame, he also was the first African-American employed full time on campus. He was a basketball coach and a physical education instructor.
The first person to complete a graduate thesis project at Tarleton was Darren Willoughby, also a kinesiology major.
Discover more about the School of Kinesiology at www.tarleton.edu/kinesiology/index.html.