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NMU athletic department reacts to Wong’s departure

May 11, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University head women's track and field coach Tom Barnes has a motto he has continually preached to his runners, jumpers and throwers.

"Treat people with kindness."

That idea came from an introduction given by Les Wong to the Wildcat athletic department during the second month of his NMU presidency.

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"When he first got here, he had a pretty good influence on my philosophy," said Barnes, who was an assistant coach at the time with NMU.

"He talked about the things he would list ahead of, say, a winning record or finishing high in the conference or at nationals.

"Some of those things were academics, the athletic experience, the positive sportsmanship things. He listed five or six ideas that he would put before winning.

"That's always been my philosophy, too," Barnes added. "I believe if you do all those good things, then winning will come naturally and you'll produce good people."

Barnes' philosophy, inspired by Wong, has paid off this season with three indoor all-Americans - pole vaulter Jamie Roberts, high jumper Bailey Franklin and triple jumper Sherice Hewett - and most recently, a GLIAC championship triple jumper in Hewett.

Those are big accomplishments for a program that was only an infant when Wong first became president at NMU eight years ago.

Now the California native is returning to his home state to become president of San Francisco State University. It's an NCAA Division II school that features baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer and wrestling for men, and basketball, track and field, cross country, soccer, softball and volleyball for women.

"I'm kinda sad to see him go," Barnes said. "He did support athletics, plus he's a real personable, easy-to-approach person. I like Les. He's a good guy."

Wong was a notable presence at NMU sporting events from the President's suite at the Berry Events Center for hockey to the sidelines of the Wildcat soccer pitch, often in a Wildcat Nordic ski team jacket.

He wasn't just a casual spectator either, but an active one - deeply concentrating on the hockey game from the front row of seats in his suite, or sharing his opinions on a call made by a GLIAC soccer official from the NMU sidelines.

"He has consistently been a fan in our stands, a person in our recreation centers, at USOEC events, and a user of our facilities on a regular basis," NMU interim athletic director Steve Reed said. "I believe that active, engaged support speaks volumes for Dr. Wong."

NMU and the USOEC hosted a pair of U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials during Wong's tenure in 2005 and 2009.

Also in 2009, Wong and the university accepted the NMU Golf Course, formerly known as Chocolay Downs, as a gift to the athletic department, expanding its recreational portfolio.

Wong spent the summer of 2011 guiding the Wildcat hockey program through conference realignment, with NMU announcing in July it would return to the WCHA in 2013-14.

For Brian Gaudreau, the interim USOEC director and associate athletic director for programming, Wong has made a huge impact on the athletic department in his eight years as a Wildcat.

"He took it on as being a real resource for the university," Gaudreau said. "He always talked about opening the front door of the university using athletics and rec sports, and I think he really truly believed that."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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