Stacks of ESPN magazines, a Deng Gai jersey, and childlike scribbles on the wall. When you walk into Mark Spellman’s office in the corner of the weight room in the Walsh Athletic Center, these are the items that grab your attention. They can also be used to find the true side of the Strength and Conditioning coach, who might strike fear into a Fairfield athlete waking up for a 5-mile run at 6 in the morning.
The messy collection of sports magazines ranging from ESPN to Muscle and Fitness obviously points to the essence of his job. Spellman’s position requires him to train over 300 athletes in the 20 teams of Fairfield University. His schedule begins when the sun barely rises in the sky at 6 AM to when it descends below the trees at 7 PM.
“It could be a challenge,” Spellman said. “Thankfully I have a lot coaches that are very supportive in what I do.”
One of those coaches, Alijia Pittenger, who is in her fourth year as the head of the volleyball program, said, “He’s got quite a load. He does a really good job of work-ing with everybody, getting to know all the athletes and somehow finding time for everybody.”
“Spellman makes a huge time commitment,” said senior Gregory Belizzi, a three-year letter winner for swimming and diving. “What he does for the University is absolutely outstanding.”
“It’s part of being a one-man operation,” Spellman said. “I knew what I was getting into… Let’s put it that way.”
A graduate of Frostburg University, Spellman went on to intern with NFL teams such as the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then he became an assistant at Villanova University before becoming the head of the Strength and Conditioning program at Fairfield 10 years ago.
“The athletic program impressed me… the opportunity to be the director was something that attracted me to the position. I’d be able to run my own program,” Spellman said.
The Deng Gai jersey that is hanging in the very back of his office shows another aspect of his job that Spellman cherishes: the growth of an athlete. Gai was a member of the Stags Men’s Basketball team in the early 2000’s. At the time of his graduation, he was 6th all-time in NCAA history in blocks before being signed by the Philadelphia 76ers. He would play in several games in the preseason.
“He just wanted to give me a thank you,” Spellman said. “I always tell them when they make it into the league, all I want is a jersey….and tickets,” he was sure to add. “I don’t ask for much. I just want to see them.”
Spellman knows that he has a part in training the athletes to reach their individual and team goals. He says the two things he focuses on are preventing injuries and allowing the athlete to perform to his or her highest potential.
“He’s going to find your limit and get right to it,” coach Pittenger said. “Last spring we worked them [the team] pretty hard and had them with Spellman every day. And they saw the payoff from all the hard work they put in. And how it transferred on the court and it made a huge difference in our speed, our ability to play balls near the floor, our jumping and our explosiveness.”
It may be hard for the athletes to see those benefits at first, especially having to do the training regimens either before or after a long day of classes. But Spellman thinks that training is not only necessary to the growth of an athlete, but also of the person. Seeing those advancements in their careers makes Spellman think of his job as special.
“You like to see the growth of the individual over the four years,” he said. “Especially when they come in as a freshman, they really don’t know what they’re getting into. As a sophomore they kind of have an idea. But most sophomores follow the definition of what a sophomore is, which is wise fool…and then senior year, hopefully we’ve prepared them to be successful in the working world or as a professional athlete.”
The athletic side is not the only one of the big man, whose voice can echo in any crowded hallway. The pictures that cover his office like wallpaper were given to him by his young children.
“It reminds me of why I do my job, first and foremost it’s to provide for my family, make sure they have a roof over their head and whatever they want to do they’re able to do.”
Since he is in the office for 12 hours Monday through Friday, seeing all the drawings of his three kids brings a little piece of ‘home’ with him all the time.
“It brings a smile to my face every time I walk into my office,” he said.
The man who is the talk (positive or negative) of almost every Fairfield athlete cannot be summed up by dumbbells, treadmills, or 45 pound weights. Instead, the man who almost always wears the grey Fairfield Stags basketball sweatshirt and whose personality is as crazy as his daily schedule, might be defined simply by a stack of magazines, an old jersey, and pictures with colors outside the lines. But why does he do it? He doesn’t pride himself on being able to train over 300 athletes, and still find time to get to know them personally. He doesn’t do it for the money. He does it for those scribbles and a simple thank you letter that he might hide somewhere in his cluttered drawer.
“To know that all the effort and time that I spend with these athletes and these individuals, [to know that] they’re appreciative of it and they understand I make a lot of sacrifices of my time and my family’s time to do my job the way it needs to get done” makes it all worthwhile.