Graduate scholarship will support students studying the philosophy of sport

Tom Joudrey
July 30, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Across the latter part of the 20th century, Penn State served as an institutional incubator for the fledgling field of the history and philosophy of sport. Emeritus Professor R. Scott Kretchmar was among its original and most prolific pioneers — writing books, publishing research articles, editing scholarly journals, and training the next generation of scholars to carry the mantle.

Janet and Scott Kretchmar

Janet and Scott Kretchmar, who recently endowed a graduate scholarship in the Department of Kinesiology at Penn State.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Scott Kretchmar

Now officially in retirement but as active as ever in the Penn State community, Kretchmar and his wife Janet are extending their existing philanthropic commitments to solidify the University’s status as a leader in the field of the history and philosophy of sport.

With their recent gift, they have endowed the Janet and Scott Kretchmar Graduate Scholarship, which will direct funds annually to promising graduate students in the Department of Kinesiology whose interests focus on the philosophical and historical research questions related to health and physical activity. As an endowment, the Kretchmars’ gift will generate funds in perpetuity.

The Kretchmars also have made arrangements in their estate planning to enlarge the fund at their passing. Their bequest will convert the scholarship into a fellowship, further amplifying the resources that are available to graduate students.

Educators abound in the Kretchmar family, and their philanthropic giving is in part motivated by a longstanding commitment to the vocation of teaching. Janet Kretchmar, now retired, taught English and speech for 21 years at the State College Area High School, and in California and New York before that. All told, her career as an educator spanned 35 years. Their son Matt is an associate professor and head of the Math and Computer Science Department at Denison University. Their daughter Jennifer holds the position of associate director of research and reporting in the Office of Admissions at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Scott inherited his love of sport from his father, R.T. Kretchmar, who taught physical education and coached baseball at Oberlin College until his early death by cancer at the age of 44. Scott followed his father’s path to Oberlin, where he earned varsity letters on both the cross-country and basketball teams. But it was in baseball that he truly excelled. By his junior year, Kretchmar was being scouted by major league teams until a shoulder injury forced him to rethink the trajectory of his professional life.

Though Scott initially entertained the idea of attending theological school to be become a minister, he soon realized that he could combine his philosophical interests with his love of sport. After three years of philosophic training at the University of Southern California (USC) that focused on the unique value of games and play in human existence, he earned a doctoral degree and embarked on a scholarly career studying sport.

While he was a second-year graduate student at USC, Scott and Janet, former high school sweethearts, married. They recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary.

The scholarly field that Kretchmar helped to create — the philosophy of sport — resists the notion that statistical or data-driven analyses can reveal the full meaning of sport. Rather, sport must be examined as a lived experience as well as an evolving social practice with ethical and aesthetic dimensions.

Early on, Kretchmar had to fight for recognition of his field. “I got in on the ground floor, and with the help of some brilliant colleagues, we put the philosophy of sport on the map," he said. He served as president of the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport, became editor of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, and helped to organize several early international conferences. His groundbreaking scholarly work was recognized through his induction as fellow in the National Academy of Kinesiology.

Still, Kretchmar never felt inclined to limit his activities to research and teaching. “Sport is team-oriented, and I brought the same collaborative attitude to serving the collegiate community,” he said.

To that end, Kretchmar strove to act as a “citizen of the University,” serving not only as the head of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science (later renamed Kinesiology) and chair of the University Faculty Senate, but also as the faculty athletics representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for Penn State. In that role, he founded the NCAA Scholarly Colloquium, which provided an academic forum for critical dialogue about the health and future of collegiate sports.

“Scott spearheaded an interdisciplinary approach to the study of sport that cut across traditional boundaries,” said Craig J. Newschaffer, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development. “By drawing on philosophy, anthropology, and evolutionary theory, he leapt beyond the standard empirical approach and opened up new lines of inquiries that his successors will be exploring for decades to come.”

For all his achievements as a researcher, Kretchmar is proudest of the doctoral students he advised and whose careers he nurtured.

“I directed 14 or 15 dissertations over the years, all written by remarkably bright and dedicated graduate students," he said. "Every one of them flourished and went on to make significant scholarly contributions to how we think about sport.”

The Kretchmars hope that their philanthropy will help to solidify the philosophy of sport as a domain of study and provide his successors with the institutional resources to recruit the most promising and enthusiastic students. Understanding sport has been Scott’s life’s work, and he said he wants that endeavor to continue.

“The reasons for studying sport need some explaining,” Kretchmar said. “Football doesn’t cure cancer, and baseball won’t bring world peace. Still, the human psyche seems to delight in play and skilled movement. We need to understand why sport and other forms of physical activity have contributed across the centuries to our happiness as individuals and our well-being as a species.”

The Kretchamars’ gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 27, 2020