Dean Ehlers: Pioneer for Dukes Sports and Men’s Athletics

Dean Ehlers presenting Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award to Tom Riley

Dean Ehlers presenting Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award to Tom Riley

The 1970’s proved to be quite a pivotal time in the athletics’ scene at Madison College and would later be changed to James Madison University in 1976 (Montana). One of the things that would be new to the school during this time was the installation of men’s sports, which would hit a turning point with the hiring of Dean Ehlers as the new Athletic Director in 1972 (The Grandstander). President Carrier would continue to add to his “Memphis Mafia” when he hired the ex-Memphis basketball and before being hired was the Athletic Director for the public school system in memphis. Ehlers would go on to change the face of the Dukes entire athletic program.

When Ehlers came on board, the school was still growing in their men’s population, many of their men’s sports teams were either new, or yet to be developed, and on top of it all President Carrier had a surprise for Ehlers at his introduction press conference. “I’d like for you all to meet Dean Ehlers, he’s going to be the new athletic director,” said Carrier, “and he’s also going to coach men’s basketball this year.” (Montana) Ehlers had no idea that he would be coaching the team that year, but he remembers Carrier saying he wanted to “save money” (Montana)for that year. Even though Ehlers was only the coach for a year to give way to coach Campanelli in 1972 (Campanelli), but he made quite the impact in that year as he led the team to their best record in their short history at 16-7((Montana), including an impressive season opening win with a score of 146-50 (Bluestone 1972).

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Ehlers coaching his players during a game

Although he was a successful coach in his one year, but he was “happy with the idea of devoting full time to his duties as Athletic Director,” (Campanelli) and a job he would end up doing. With his time at JMU he saw the sports teams go from Division III to Division and help found the Colonial Athletic Association that the school sports teams are in today(Montana). Many of the men’s teams were playing at Harrisonburg High School and the department only had about $44,000 in budget, compared to $34 million tody(Montana). At this point the football team did not even have a season, and was known to recruit players waiting to register for school(Montana). Ehlers was well liked in the JMU community, and is still a part of it to the best of his abilities, and will always be known for the job he did for JMU athletics(Montana). For his work, Ehlers was recently inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, where the job he did can be on show for everyone to see.

The one thing that the school was trying to accomplish when bringing in Ehlers was to create a coeducational institute that could compete with anyone else in the state. For President Carrier, he wanted to bring men into the school and create a diverse institution that had not been accomplished at the school, and by bringing in Ehlers, he thought it was possible to create an athletic program that would attract men to Madison (Dr. Carrier). He of course thought a football program would be what creates the best results, but just the general idea of a formal athletic program was needed first, and that was what Ehlers was brought on to do, and without him, may never had been achieved.

Works cited

“Campanelli Replaces Ehlers As Dukes Basketball Coach.” The Breeze.  May 19, 1972.

Hulver, John “Athletic Director Dean Ehlers presents the Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award to Tom Riley…” 1972. The Breeze;

James Madison University. “Bluestone 1972.” bluestone197264jame#page/82/mode/2up (accessed January 17,2013).

Montana, Paul. “Ehlers Named to the Hall.” Daily News Record. January 15, 2013

President Dr. Ronald Carrier, interview by author, James Madison University, April 23, 2013.

The Grandstander. The Breeze. April 30, 1971.