The world's athletic playing field is huge, and Alpha Alexander has observed it in many corners. She has led delegations of physical education teachers to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Russia, Morocco, Spain, and Cuba. She has watched children in South Africa play soccer in the dirt with rocks. She has seen the effects of a government's commitment to physical education. "Can you imagine teaching in a school where there are no discipline problems, and the entire school exercises twice a day for 20 minutes? That's what I saw in China. Can you imagine how far you could go in such a system?"
If Alexander's current worldview of physical education is panoramic, when she arrived at Wooster in 1972, it was narrow but focused. Growing up in Dayton in the '50s and '60s meant that there were few opportunities for girls to play sports. Alexander's father taught her to swim at a local branch of the YMCA, but her high school's only offering for women - track and field - wasn't a good fit.
Wooster's offering of 13 women's sports was a magnet. "Back then, it was phenomenal for a college to offer that many opportunities for women." Alexander says. At Wooster, Alexander's flourishing talent in volleyball, tennis, and basketball would eventually lead to her induction into the College's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991.
Although she is still an athlete ("as much as these old knees will let me"), it is Alexander's role as educator, mentor, and advocate that prompted the NCAA in 2006 to name her one of the 100 most influential NCAA student-athletes of the century. Alexander is currently a physical education teacher at Morristown West High School in Morristown, Tennessee, and a tutor for students at risk of failing the school's competency exam. She has mentored 13 young people, and her current mentee, a first-grader at Knox County Elementary School, recently announced to Alexander that he would grow up to be "just like" her."The story is still to be told," she laughs.
Mentoring and role modeling are vital, Alexander says, and sadly lacking. She co-founded the Black Women in Sports Foundation in 1992 and has served as its vice-president. Her service to underrepresented athletes, to the United States Olympic Committee, and to the Arthur Ashe Athletic Association has led to numerous honors, including the Nell Jackson Award, the Billie Jean King Contribution Award, and the Olympic Shield Award.
For society, the most significant force for change has been Title IX, says Alexander. "It's had a huge impact for women in sports. Today, women's teams are winning gold medals for the Olympics."
For Alexander personally, the Wooster experience shaped her life almost more than any other influence, she says. And within that experience, she points to Brenda Meese '75, currently Wooster's assistant athletic director. "She really made an impact on my life and my career."
"Some of the best years of my life were at Wooster. When you go to Wooster, you go away with lifelong friends and lifelong influences."