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An Every Day Person

October 2004


Ray Shovlain clears his throat and looks out the window of his office while he searches for the right answer. He's in the middle of an interview and trying to explain his philosophy of life. He drums his fingers on the desk and shifts positions. He starts to speak then stops. He wants to get it right.

Shovlain '79, '82 MBA, has spent his life getting it right.

As an SAU athlete, he racked up records in single game, season, and career assists that stood for decades. He is SAU's winningest basketball coach with a career record of 408-279 in 21 seasons. He's garnered numerous coaching awards, and is in the unique position of having been named Professor of the Year twice (he is an assistant professor in the College of Business) and Staff Member of the Year. (In addition to coaching, he's been SAU's athletic director since 1994.) He's writing a book on management. He's an avid community volunteer. He loves spending time with his wife and two kids.

Shovlain leans forward and begins to speak in a voice that will only get more gravelly when basketball season starts.

"You have to be where you're supposed to be every day," he begins. "You have to do what you say you're going to do. In order to win the championship, you have to be an every day person."

That philosophy was born at home, Shovlain says, with parents who gave their best and expected the same of their six children.

"My parents were solid, hardworking people who couldn't afford to go to college themselves but sent all of us. They led by example. They worked hard and taught us to use every day as best we could. All six of us graduated from St. Ambrose, and five of us have master's degrees.

"My parents also taught us that life is not fair. That's not a negative, it's just a fact. But it comes down to how you're going to adjust. Are you going to sulk, or are you going to come up with alternatives?"

These aren't empty platitudes, Shovlain notes; he's been there as often as anyone else.

"When I first started coaching, things didn't go overly well. I was quick to blame other people and situations. Like so many people, I let myself get frustrated over not getting a promotion or the resources I thought I deserved, and it affected my performance."

But, he says, "something clicked" after a while, and he remembered his parents' lesson: Life isn't fair, and what are you going to do about it?

"By the fourth season, we began to turn things around. We still have setbacks. This year, for example, four recruits aren't coming that we were expecting. In my first season, I wouldn't have responded very well to that. But this year, my thought is, ‘What can we do instead?'"

Yet such talk about being present and keeping your promises is more about being the person God intends you to be than winning, he says.

"The biggest challenge for us all is to make this world a better place. I require my students to do community service. If I can help my students and athletes to think outside their own neighborhoods, I'll have been successful. I want to help people help other people. That's what it's all about."

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