On April 15th, the fifth annual Wally Awards made waves not just on campus, but throughout the nation.
Olivia Sanchez’s piece about has been picked up by a variety of publications, including USA Today and the New York Post. It put on display the misogynistic language that spoiled the night for many attendees, including Terry Porter and his family, who walked out during Sundaram’s speech at one point. Sundaram has since been removed from the tennis team roster and has . It’s a black mark on the year for the university and the Wally's.
The Wally's have not always been marred by controversy, however. In fact, the history behind the annual athletics banquet is one of fun and laughter for athletes and the Athletic Department.
The event was started by the Athletic Department and the UP Student-Athletes Advisory Committee (SAAC) in 2014. The idea, as the show’s first emcee Dan McGinty recalls it, was initiated by students and SAAC. Whitney Robison, who at the time was director of soccer operations for the women’s team and currently serves as director of basketball operations for the men’s team, was instrumental in coordinating between SAAC and the Athletics Department.
Robison declined to comment, but McGinty remembers her being a vital part of making the Wally's happen.
“Whitney was really helping to provide some administrative leadership and support for SAAC as the students were crafting the idea for the Wally's,” McGinty recalled, who currently serves as the director of the Dundon-Berchtold for Moral Formation and Applied Athletics. McGinty also teaches the Character Project alongside University President Fr. Mark Poorman. He has not been a part of the Wally's beyond his first year with it.
McGinty at the time was the assistant athletic director for academic services, a position that allowed him to interact with nearly every student-athlete. Whether it was something as simple as helping with registration or something more comprehensive, McGinty had a connection with the majority of student-athletes. That connection was key in him being chosen as the Wally's first emcee.
“I had the rare blessing of being connected to all the students,” McGinty said. “Certainly their names came across my desk and paperwork came through me for registration and those types of things, and so they came and asked me to do it. While I am very comfortable speaking publicly, I’m not a raging extrovert, but I was happy to help out in that role.”
The Athletic Department, according to Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Jason Brough, was responsible for the selection of Sundaram as emcee as well the vetting of his remarks. The statement also says that the SAAC was not at fault for the issues at this year’s Wally's.
The concept behind the Wally's was simple enough. The idea was to have a night where student-athletes and other members of the Athletics Department can get together and celebrate all their accomplishments from the past year, unwind and relax at the end of another long year, dress up, pat each other on the back and have a good time.
“They (student-athletes) see each other work out,” McGinty said. “They see each other sweat, bleed, the sacrifices they make, and for them to, within their own community, share whose stories and achievements impacted or inspired them, that was part of the design behind this.”
“It was about being a Portland Pilot,” he said.
The Wally's has historically aimed not to take itself too seriously. Humor is a staple of any good awards show, and it is something that hosts generally try to emulate every year. Kevin Baker, senior pitcher for the baseball team and emcee of the Wally's last year, appreciated the efforts of Nathan DeVaughn, the host of the Wally's during his first year in athletics.
“What Nate DeVaughn did, which was really good, was he made it a really lighthearted event,” Baker said. DeVaughn would take humorous jabs at sports teams, but follow it up with a highlight of the team’s accomplishments. Baker said DeVaughn poked fun at the lice outbreak on the volleyball team by saying they need caution tape around their table, but then congratulated them for getting third in the WCC.
Baker wanted to emulate DeVaughn’s humor and use that when he hosted the Wally's the following year. He threw in as many jokes as he possibly could to keep the crowd interested, including a joke about how DeVaughn, who had since graduated, wasn’t in attendance because of “some stupid other event.” That stupid other event was his wedding.
Even though he tried his best, Baker admits that the night didn’t always go exactly to plan.
“What I tried to do didn’t work out too well,” Baker admits with a slight chuckle. “We always have a joke within our baseball team that I was a terrible host for the Wally's because I tried to make so many jokes that just did not register. But we all have good fun with it. It’s tough to go up there and be the host.”
Baker got involved after being approached by Hannah Mattson, a former basketball player for the women’s team. It was pretty simple on his end: they told him he had a charismatic personality, asked him if he wanted to do it and he said “yes.” Easy as pie.
Baker wasn’t given any specific guidelines when emceeing the event. He was given free rein to write whatever script he wanted. And those in charge did not give him any specific guidelines as to what he could and couldn’t say.
“I asked them ‘what should I say’ and all they told me is ‘what you want to do is just give a history of what the Wally's are and explain why everybody’s here and what the purpose of this event is,” Baker said about the supervision. “Give a couple remarks, whatever you want to do, and then carry on with the event.”
Baker voluntarily shared his material with everyone in charge, including Adam Linnman, the sports information director at UP who Baker says was the coordinator of the event when he emceed, just to make sure everything he said was OK.
“A lot of it was just me wanting to run it by them,” Baker said. “I would run all my ideas by him [Linnman] and he really appreciated it. I’m sure he would’ve asked, but I was very willing to run everything by him because that’s how I am as a person.”
“I wanted to make sure that everything’s going to go smoothly.”
Smoothly. That’s generally how the Wally's are supposed to go. And that’s generally the emcee’s role. Keep everything rolling, keep it lighthearted and most importantly have fun.
“I’m happy that we’re having conversations on campus,” McGinty said about how to proceed after this event. “It’s very easy to look at other communities and to suggest and note problems that others are having. Maybe this is a reminder to us that we have work to do here too.”