David Leach, senior associate athletic director for recreation and wellness, has "stepped down from his position," according to emails sent by Penn Athletics Director M. Grace Calhoun on Jan. 18. Of all the administrative positions within Penn Athletics, Leach's former role has the most direct impact on students — especially those who aren't athletes.
The emails, sent to the Penn Recreation Advisory Committee and Leach's staff on Friday, described his departure the day before as voluntary. Calhoun wrote that Scott Ward, senior associate athletics director and chief operations officer, would take over Leach's role on an interim basis.
Penn Athletics did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Leach's departure came as a surprise to some who worked with him. At least one person who worked with Leach reported having ongoing conversations with him and a regular meeting planned for next week. The source wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.
"I'm very sorry to leave Penn," Leach wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "In my two years I've enjoyed putting the Recreation Advisory Committee together, getting a wonderful staff in place, and working on major improvements to an aging Gimbel Gym — the Multi-Purpose Room and addition of air conditioning.
"I'm confident my staff will continue pushing forward great initiatives for the students, faculty and staff at Penn and continue to make the health and well-being of the Penn Community a top priority."
Leach was hired in February 2017 and has since led Penn Campus Recreation, which oversees club sports, intramural sports, and other health and wellness activities hosted at the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, the Hecht & Hamlin Tennis Center, and other facilities. At the time, Calhoun described Leach as "a top-notch professional" and said he would be a member of the "senior leadership team" at Penn.
“I first met Dave Leach when he took over, and he was sort of everything I had been hoping for when he took the position,” College senior Justin Bean said. “[He] knew everyone by name and knew things about us; he was a very good manager, a very nice, kind person. Also he was very receptive to feedback: that was sort of emulated by the fact that he created the Recreation Advisory Committee. … I think a lot of the managers were pretty receptive to what his vision was, which was a pretty strong vision.”
Engineering senior Eve Phelps, who worked with Leach through the Recreation Advisory Committee, and College junior Kiran Raja felt that the club sports program was unorganized and struggled with finances and communication prior to 2017. Both work closely with the club sports administration through their membership on the Sports Club Council. Leach led a push to improve communication and consolidate club finances.
He brought back Wellness Wednesdays, a promotion featuring free classes at Pottruck, and promoted other popular programs, helping students and the Campus Rec staff to create new fitness classes, and expand access to club sports.
According to Phelps and Raja, Leach also worked to improve the financial system for club sports. Prior to 2017, club sports finances were decentralized to the point that Penn had little to no records of how money was being spent and what dues were being collected by the 37 club teams. A few teams even ended up in debt because of the lack of accountability, eventually leading to a freeze on adding new clubs.
Now, the Sports Club Council oversees all financial decisions and meets weekly, including regular budget meetings. Members of the council have worked, under Leach’s direction, to communicate directly with club sports about finances, mandate clear financial reporting, and allocate funds effectively.
Although the department made progress over the nearly two years of Leach’s leadership, Campus Rec was still understaffed, chiefly because the role of Sport Club supervisor was left unfilled after the selection committee offered the role to two candidates and both declined the position, according to Raja, who was involved in interviewing candidates for the position.
“There has been a lot of turnover and the staff is pretty stretched thin and has a lot going on at all times [so] that even just running the baseline level is a little hectic,” Raja said.
This sentiment is echoed by some on the club teams themselves.
“The management has changed, and so when the management changed, a lot of information was not passed on or people don’t have well-defined roles or seem confused about what they need to do and so that has been kind of frustrating,” Wharton senior and club volleyball captain Tiffany Chang said. “We’ve missed a lot of dates and opportunities because of the inefficiency.”
Leach made improved communication a goal for the department, putting it into practice by making connections with his subordinates and creating the Recreation Advisory Committee to increase the amount of student input and feedback.
In a role that already had more potential for student interaction and involvement than most administrators, Leach distinguished himself by graciously accepting feedback from students, working to improve, and making real connections outside the scope of his job description, according to Bean and others who interacted with Leach.
Executive Editor Sarah Fortinsky contributed reporting.