KevinGivens_Primer08In my time at City on a Hill Press, I’ve interviewed Kevin Givens more times than I can even remember. We’ve discussed all things UCSC club sports, from the budget to rugby, fencing and much more. And on late production nights, the question always comes up about the nickname that people seem to know better than his real name. Givens, known to all as “Skippy” (short for “Skippy Jammer”), is an upbeat, young-at-heart kind of guy, responsible for giving thousands of UCSC students the chance to participate in their favorite sports every year. He provides opportunities to meet new people and build a sense of community at a time in our lives when it seems most difficult to figure out where we fit in. After taking the job in 1988, having graduated from Sonoma State just two years earlier, Skippy became the second person in UCSC’s history to hold the position as the director of intramural and club sports. In a way, it’s like he never left college, and I think he likes it that way. As he put it, “the real world looked scary to me … so thank God I never went into [it], I stayed here instead.”

Now 21 years later, Skippy has increased the number of participants in intramurals, started an annual triathlon in his name, and more than tripled the number of club sports despite facing an ever-shrinking budget. And throughout all this he has found the time to be a husband and father, not to mention gain 14 world titles in the realm of freestyle Frisbee. So here he is to explain not just the nickname, but the job that has given him and so many students a great amount fulfillment and gratification over the years.

First things first, how did you get the nickname “Skippy”?
It came ironically from an old Frisbee tournament back in ‘81. Some teammates started calling me that in reference to my abilities in freestyle Frisbee and it just stuck. That’s the thing about nicknames – you can’t give them to yourself, so when you get one, you just hope it’s a good one. And now 27 years later, I still go by the same name.

What were your first goals coming into this position?
I was very eager to kind of plug my own personality into it. It was about keeping it fun, making it a little more casual than what it was, and increasing the diversification of it. I wanted it to be very inclusive to the point of if anyone was interested then they could have an opportunity to come down and participate. And then in more recent times when I took over the sports clubs, I wanted to do that but at a much higher level of sophistication.
…I was able to plug some energy into something that had been lying dormant for so long. I think the interest was always there, but students were just accustomed to getting “no” as the answer and here the answer was “yes” and I think that’s what changed the whole approach and shift of the energy to make it more vibrant.

What do you think has been greatest accomplishment in your time here?
I think it’s just the sheer volume of students who participate in these programs. If you consider it’s probably about an average of 4,500 students [per year] for the last 10 years and then about 3,500 for the 10 years before that. This is the start of my 21st year, and so if you add up those numbers and then plug in all the sports club numbers and even beyond that, people who have casually done it or just gone to watch a game and felt like they were a part of something, that’s probably the greatest lasting legacy is just their experience.

What else would you like to accomplish in your time here?
The resources are so limited and the interest is so high that there’s this disparity between the two, so I’m just there to catalyze the two and to hone and refine that interest … With that said, the potential for even greater things is always a constant … and the main thing that holds it back are the main things that everybody is aware of – lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of staff and facilities too. But once those things are in place, I think what we’ll see is a much more vibrant campus, one that retains its students and increases their experiences because for practically every student that goes to school here, their greatest memories aren’t of their major or Bio 101, it’s what they did outside the academic classes. It’s getting new friends that are going to last a lifetime or doing activities with those friends. All of those things come into play and that’s what OPERS is here for and that’s what I’m here for.

What is your biggest struggle in this job?
The money and then the continuing challenge we have of paradigms and preconceived ideas of what our role is and thinking about it in terms of what the true student interest is and trying to get the administration to think about it in those terms … So what’s going to motivate and help you feel connected to the university? Certainly you have activities within your dorm, but is that enough? Not really … Think about how a student would negotiate through these frustrations and eventually find themselves through an activity – and it doesn’t have to be here. It could be SOAR, through the many resource centers we have, all of those things are immensely valuable and I think that’s where the challenge is – trying to bring a new focus to that and look at it in a new light and see what kind of resources can be made for those programs and entities that can enhance them.

Did you think you would end up doing this – working with this age group in sports?
No, but I think I’m always young at heart, so that’s not anything new for me. I feel comfortable with this age bracket, so to speak. And then I think the other part of it is just the rewards of mentoring. It’s seeing somebody finally accomplish something that they’ve worked hard at doing and me getting none of the credit. That really couldn’t make me happier and I’m serious. They’re the ones who deserve it and I feel that it’s my capacity to hone that and refine that and move them forward.