Athletics

Professor Frank Westhoff; First In, Last Out

By Alex Kantor, Sports Information Director

Almost all college economics professors teach their students about some form of the “first in, first out” accounting method. But at Amherst, Professor of Economics Frank Westhoff is teaching everyone around him about the “first in, last out” method of support. He is recognized around campus as one of the most passionate and dedicated supporters of Amherst Athletics. At nearly every home football game, Westhoff is one of the first peOPLE to park his car for a prime tailgating spot, and is quite often one of the last fans following a team on a road playoff run.

Westhoff

For Jen Hughes, head coach of Amherst’s women’s soccer team, Westhoff’s dedication to her team has been constant and unwavering. Nothing has illustrated his commitment to the team more his support during the 2006 season. That year, the Jeffs played 19 games, with Westhoff on the sideline for each and every one, including road games at Wheaton, Bowdoin and Middlebury. When the NCAA Tournament started, he traveled back to Wheaton to see Amherst defeat Kean University, and then the host Lyons. The next week, Hughes says, “Professor Westhoff displayed his true colors when he traveled down to New Jersey to watch the team battle Endicott and The College New Jersey in the Rounds of Sixteen and Eight.”

Prior to that weekend, Hughes had invited Westhoff to ride down with the team on the bus, but he could not leave campus with the team due to teaching commitments. Westhoff ended up making the normally four hour trip in just over six hours because of New York City traffic, only to see Amherst fall just short of the Final Four with a penalty kick loss to the host side from TCNJ.

While his trip to New Jersey might illustrate Westhoff’s dedication to the team better than any other story, his connection with the team dates back nearly 35 years. A few years after arriving on campus in 1973, Westhoff found himself in the stands of Hitchcock Field next to then head coach Michelle Morgan’s husband Jay. Westhoff and his wife, Louise, formed an instant friendship with the Morgans, and the relationship between the Westhoffs and Amherst women’s soccer was born.

Over the next decade, nearly every time Amherst added a new women’s sport, Michelle Morgan served as the head coach for at least the first season. She explains that Professor Westhoff “became an integral part of our athletic family during the early days of co-education and was often one of two fans in the stands along with Jay.” During her early years coaching the women’s basketball team, Morgan recalls hearing “echoes of the ball bouncing off the floor and the supportive cheering of Frank from the very vacant stands.”

In an official capacity, Westhoff serves as the faculty liaison for the women’s soccer team. His role is to provide a bridge between the athletic and academic departments and to serve as an advisor and mentor for the team. The players meet Westhoff at the first meeting during preseason, and from that moment forward he is a constant fixture on the sidelines. Hughes explains that Westhoff “begins to cultivate his relationships with the players the moment they step on campus as first-years.” Shortly after their first team meeting, rookies receive an email from Westhoff encouraging them to come meet with him if they have any questions about their classes, schedules, possible majors or any other topic.

While the faculty liaison role already existed for a handful of sports at Amherst, Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey formalized the program during her first year on campus in 2006. Coffey describes Westhoff as a “very, very successful teacher and mentor in the classroom” who carries that passion into his work as a liaison.

“Every day, students come to my classes and have to listen to me lecture, see me perform,” explains Westhoff. “It’s only fair that I go down to the fields to see them perform in their arena.”

Morgan, now the senior women’s administrator for the athletic department, explains what makes Westhoff different from most fans. “Like the players, he has always lived for game day. He pours his heart and soul into his role as a spectator regardless of the sport being played, male or female.”

Westhoff truly embraces this role in every facet of life, making connections in the classroom, at the fields, and away from campus. Each spring, he and his wife take the coaches and seniors from the women’s soccer team out to dinner. The evening is a celebration of the seniors’ successful careers as student-athletes and a send-off as they move on to the next chapter in their lives. Hughes describes this ritual as a “touching gesture and a tradition the seniors very much look forward to every year.”

His commitment to student-athletes is not something that Amherst students forget after graduation. Lesley Pruzansky ’07, a standout soccer player and economics major, saw Westhoff as a source of support throughout her four years at Amherst. “He took a real interest in helping me reach my goals both academically and athletically,” she says. Since Pruzansky’s graduation, they have become great friends.

Westhoff takes the most pride in seeing Amherst's student-athletes succeed on and off the field, and relishes the relationships he has developed with both the students and their parents.

Hughes recalls countless conversations with Westhoff about how athletics can contribute to the development and growth of student-athletes. Both coach and professor see athletics as a forum for teaching lessons crucial to successful living—such as teamwork, communication, commitment, discipline, taking calculated risk and displaying grace and class in the face of both success and failure.

Westhoff sees the merit of athletics as a tool for teaching, but what he probably doesn’t know is how much everyone around him is learning from seeing him watch sports.