Brian Baptiste, J.D., arrived at La Salle University in Summer 2019, signaling his appointment as Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation by pulling on a blue-and-gold baseball cap and affixing a lapel pin to his suit jacket. At his introductory press conference, Baptiste made it known he and the department were ready to get to work. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves with you,” Baptiste said last June.
Two months later, Baptiste officially took the reins of an athletics department with nearly 500 student-athletes across 25 intercollegiate teams, and a robust campus recreation community offering intramural and club sports to hundreds more. Already, the Department of Athletics is seeing the results from Baptiste’s work. In a Q&A with La Salle Magazine, Baptiste pointed to significant milestone achievements by the Explorers in his first months on the job and shared his vision for what is to come.
How do you assess the athletics landscape at La Salle, from the time you arrived to today?
The first 10 months have been incredible. It is so fulfilling to work with a tremendous group of young people and a staff that is committed to their development. We are motivated each day in providing them with a transformational experience. Looking back at the fall and winter seasons, we performed extremely well in the classroom, with 22 of our 25 sport programs posting a team GPA of 3.0 or better. We were very engaged in the community, with more than 1,800 hours of community service, which nearly doubled our entire total from last year. We also had a great deal of success in the competitive realm, with the majority of our teams making it to the conference postseason. That’s our best performance overall since 2011. The highlight came in November, with both our Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams winning Atlantic 10 Conference championships. We certainly have some challenges that we have to overcome, but our students continue to display tremendous grit and unbelievable work ethic toward reaching their goals.
You’re a native of the East Coast, where passion for sports is as strong as anywhere in the nation. Can you offer an assessment of the La Salle fanbase, from what you’ve seen and experienced?
I love being back on the East Coast. There is nothing like it. The La Salle fanbase is as passionate as any out there. We have such a rich history and it is now our obligation to continue to tell our story in an impactful way.
How have you and your family adjusted to Philadelphia?
Jessica, my wife, and our girls, Saniya, Jordan, and Zoe, are doing well. Everyone in the La Salle community has been so gracious in their welcome and it is greatly appreciated. The opportunity to be closer to family has been wonderful and the joys of the milder winter certainly can’t be understated.
How would you describe your leadership style as a first-time athletic director? Do you take leads from those with whom you have worked or those whom you have followed?
My leadership style is to be very intentional and thoughtful in my approach. Always having a growth mindset is so critically important, especially as college athletics and higher education continue to evolve. I want to make sure that my actions and words align. Whether it was Jim Phillips at Northwestern, Samantha Huge at Delaware, or Bernard Muir at Georgetown, working with them was so invaluable because they all invested in me in such a meaningful way. They challenged me and put me in positions to develop and grow as an administrator, always communicating and delivering on the importance of being a servant leader to the young people that we work with. It is my obligation to do the same thing with our staff, to make sure that they have opportunities to grow, develop, and reach their highest potential in whatever they desire.
How would you describe your short- and long-term visions for La Salle athletics?
My short-term vision is to continue to provide a transformational experience academically, socially, and athletically to all students involved in our program. We must foster an environment that supports learning and development of every student in our program. We look to graduate every student-athlete that comes to La Salle and make sure they have the tools for sustained success in life as they define it for themselves. We want to act with integrity with each and every decision that we make. We want to provide our programs with the resources that are needed to compete for and win championships. Lastly, we want to build and foster a culture where we embrace change and encourage innovation. The last few months have taught us that change can happen at a moment’s notice, and our adaptability will determine our future path. We are motivated to tackle the above because the long-term vision is to be a premier athletics and recreation program that strongly emphasizes compliance, integrity, sportsmanship, fiscal responsibility, wellness, and the pursuits of both educational and athletic interests at the very highest level. Our coaches, staff, and students will always represent the institution and community in a positive manner at all times.
How would you assess your first year at La Salle?
We’ve experienced tremendous success, headlined by the men’s and women’s cross country teams winning conference championships, the volleyball team earning its first-ever national postseason berth, and both basketball programs showing growth, with the Men’s Basketball team winning the Gulf Coast Showcase and the Women’s Basketball team earning wins over Penn State and Harvard. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt close to our athletic seasons, but I am very proud of the work our coaches and staff have done during this unprecedented time. We have continued to engage our student-athletes in new ways, found areas of opportunity in the midst of chaos, and have learned a lot about ourselves and each other in the process.
You have had opportunities to meet with La Salle alumni as well as some of La Salle’s legendary athletes. Have they offered advice?
They talk about how La Salle made such a profound impact
on their lives. There is an excitement and energy about the future. They speak candidly about the importance of engaging with as many alumni as possible, because everyone has a unique story. Now it is our job to connect and tell those stories in a dynamic way.