Still figuring it out

Approaching the two-year anniversary of his hiring this March, athletic director Torre Chisholm sat down with the Vanguard to speak of renovated gymnasiums, text messaging, the Portland State wrestling program and a certain senior forward on the women’s basketball—Kelsey Kahle.

Approaching the two-year anniversary of his hiring this March, athletic director Torre Chisholm sat down with the Vanguard to speak of renovated gymnasiums, text messaging, the Portland State wrestling program and a certain senior forward on the women’s basketball—Kelsey Kahle.

Skyler Archibald: It wasn’t that long ago that President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address. Give us your state of the union in regards to Portland State athletics.
Torre Chisholm:
We are going through some staff adjustments, although it’s nothing that I can elaborate on. When we are done, the things we are doing will be a huge benefit to our coaches and players. I have found this to be the most befuddling marketing effort that I have been involved with just in terms of being in a big city, garnering a lot of attention, but to my satisfaction that hasn’t necessarily translated to butts in the seats.

Everybody is watching and waiting and knowing that we are doing good stuff but just not showing up to see the games in person.

Wherever I go in the city, people who aren’t even associated with us know what we’re doing, they know that we’re playing well; they know there’s a lot of excitement. But if you ask them, “Hey, have you been out to a game?” They’ll say, “No, I haven’t.” That’s the disconnect that we haven’t figured out yet.

We are doing a text-marketing program that sends reminder texts out to members that sign up, to remind them of the game tonight. We are trying to evolve, but we haven’t figured everything out yet.

SA: How would you evaluate your satisfaction with the football team last year?
I saw progress, and I liked that piece of it. Next year is an important year for us. We have these new players and we think they’re talented, so we need to put all the pieces together. I think they are going to have a lot of advantages next year with six home games. There’s still work to be done there.

SA: Both men’s and women’s basketball teams are experiencing a good amount of success right now. How does that help your department reach their goals?
First and foremost, you get excited for the student-athletes themselves because they work so hard to get to this point. I also get excited for the long-term fans. They’ve been around and seen the lean years, saw the promise of going to Division I and then saw the financial struggles, and now have the chance to see the fruition of what they originally supported.

SA: There is a lot of excitement with the possibility of a renovated Stott Center in a few years. Can you update us on that project?
: We know what we want to do with the Stott Center. It’s in the evaluation process with [President Wiewel] right now. We have a lot of campus needs facility-wise. We need new student housing, we need new academic space, and there are other needs.

The president is looking at all of it and I think he understands and appreciates the importance of what it could bring to campus, but he’s got to measure it against everything else.

If the project gets done, there will be several components. First, the gym has to be expanded—our current renderings would have it seating about 4,200. It would have suites and a club level that would overlook the court and a concourse underneath.

Second, we would have to ensure that the rest of the athletic and classroom space can get done so that it serves the community health needs. And the last piece is that we give the exterior a facelift so that it has a better presence.

We haven’t set a hard deadline, and right now we’re looking at the fundraising feasibility of it. Can we raise the money for it? This is a campus-wide facility and a big decision.

SA: The game environment at the Stott Center seems to be improving, at least for basketball games. Is that a product of the department’s efforts?
I was looking at our game environment and it sucked. I felt bad for our teams. We have had games last year where our team had to go out and generate all their own energy and excitement, which is hard and really defeats the whole purpose of the home-court advantage.

We want to have live music at every game, we have upgraded the sound system, added some outdoor speakers and the televisions in the lobby just to fine-tune the promotional staff. We are trying to manufacture the energy a bit.

SA: You have had some issues with retaining coaches but you recently signed head basketball coach Ken Bone to a nice extension. Was that a preventative measure?
Our biggest problem in our department is retention of coaches and staff. It’s bigger than what I’ve anticipated.

The reasons they are leaving make sense, but our focus has to be on head-coach retention. We have to hire the right people—people that aren’t just coming here saying, “That’s my next job opportunity.” We want to hire people that fit in with the culture of Portland State, so that’s our biggest challenge.

SA: What prompted the president’s decision to organize the task force to look at the wrestling program?
Basically, we are noncompetitive at the Division I level. Add to that the fact that we have had significant academic issues with multiple years of being in penalties from the NCAA. Progressing penalties could result in ultimate de-certification of our program, so we are having to analyze these sorts of things. That is what has brought to light the discussion about the need to have the wrestling program here.

We’ve got a great group of young men that are working their butts off right now, but we’re not able to compete at the level that the rest of our program is able to compete at. 

It is neat that we compete in the Pac-10, but the downside is that there’s a huge spectrum of support of the sport. Whereas in the Big Sky, most of the schools are not that far apart in how they support their programs. When you’re in a conference with Stanford and Oregon State, they just have more resources to put into it.

A lot of schools look at sports and dropping, what we want to do is recognize the great tradition that we have and really have a campus discussion and give the wrestlers a chance to talk about what the program means to them. We are trying to make the best decision for the university.

SA: Senior forward Kelsey Kahle just eclipsed the all-time scoring record in school history. Is she a shoe-in for the Portland State Hall of Fame or to have her number retired?
I think she is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. If you have one, she would need to be in there. The group on the wall there is the elite of the elite, and it is interesting to see where she falls in line with that. Talent-wise and leadership-wise she is definitely there. Does she have to win a championship? I don’t know. That said, she won’t be satisfied unless she takes us to the NCAA Tournament.