Patrick C. Haden, who is 60, is athletic director at the University of Southern California. Mr. Haden, a novice as a singer and actor, recently performed in the musical The Most Happy Fella as a way to encourage athletes to get involved in campus activities besides sports. Here's his story, as told to Sydni Dunn.
As the athletic director at University of Southern California, I'm in charge of about 650 student athletes, who I consider among the best in the world. It's my job to see that they have a well-rounded college career, just not an athletic one. When they leave the university, I want them to be more than just track athletes, basketball players, swimmers.
I've consistently encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones and try something new on campus. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is.
"What is the most uncomfortable thing I could possibly do?" I asked myself. "Sing, act, and dance."
And I did so 10 times this semester, taking on the role of Postman No. 2 in the university's spring production of The Most Happy Fella, a musical about a Napa Valley grape-grower who courts a San Francisco waitress through the mail.
I had pitched the idea of my being involved in a performance to the dean of the theater school, and a year later, she asked if I was interested in being in a play. I thought I would step on stage, say a few lines, and walk off.
Unbeknownst to me, it was a musical—and I had a solo.
Although I had played football in college in front of packed stadiums, the thought of being onstage was scary. I had never acted, and my singing experience had been limited to my shower.
I practiced with the group twice a week for three months and every day on my own. On the way to work, I sang along to the music on my iPad. I can't imagine what the people next to me on the freeway thought, but it had to be done.
The first show was April 4, in the School of Dramatic Arts' Bing Theatre. I kept repeating to myself: "Just don't forget your first line."
I didn't. What I did do, though, was find a part of the campus I knew little about, learn about it, and pass that insight along to my athletes. I gained an appreciation of the arts, and I witnessed the teamwork and effort a cast—much like a sports team—puts into a performance.
My goal in this venture was never to trade my day job for a chance at Broadway; it was about the students. After receiving their overwhelming support, with one team or another attending each performance, I believe my message was conveyed.
College is the time in a student's life when they have the resources to branch out and experience new things. They just need to open the aperture a little more and see what's out there.