Academy Athletics Department starts monthly newsletter

Mr. Jim Knowlton, the Air Force Academy's 11th athletic director, introduces himself to the cadet wing from the staff tower of Mitchell Hall March 30, 2015. Knowlton replaced Dr. Hans Mueh, who retired in January 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jason Gutierrez)

Mr. Jim Knowlton, the Air Force Academy's 11th athletic director, introduces himself to the cadet wing from the staff tower of Mitchell Hall March 30, 2015. Knowlton replaced Dr. Hans Mueh, who retired in January 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jason Gutierrez)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- I'm excited to introduce a series of monthly letters from the Athletics Department. I will take this opportunity to keep you posted on our progress as we move forward with our mission of forging leaders of character for our Air Force and our nation.

In this first installment, I would like to recap my first 120 days as the athletics director. I joined the department in March and have been thrilled with the reception I've received from the secretary of the Air Force, the chief of staff of the Air Force, and on down. The Academy graduates, along with our Academy teammates in Colorado Springs, Denver and around the globe, have made me feel at home.

We have been busy with Listening Days, a SWOT -- Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats -- analysis that allowed me to talk with all organizations within the department and learn where we are today. My focus has been on people, programs and platforms, and Listening Days helped me understand where we are and where we are going. I could not be more excited about the passion leaders here have at all levels and the intensity they feel in helping forge leaders of characters for our Air Force.

Our leadership team participated in an offsite meeting where we developed short-term goals and a vision for the future. We are using our Listening Days feedback and developing short term goals which will lead to our strategic plan.

We recently completed the spring athletic season in record fashion. Three Academy athletes qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Senior Zach Perkins was the national runner-up in the 1,500-meters for the second time in three years in a thrilling race; Dylan Bell qualified in the pole vault and earned second-team All-American honors; and Hannah Everson won the NCAA regional championship in the 10,000-meters and earned honorable mention All-American honors at the NCAA meet.

Senior track and field standout Rebecca Esselstein showed the well-roundedness we strive to produce at the Academy. She was the number one Academy Class of 2015 graduate, earned Capitol One Academic All-American honors for the third straight season and was named the Academic All-American of the Year for track and field, an Academy first. Rebecca earned Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and was named the Mountain West Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2014-15.

We had three programs with historic accomplishments. Our baseball team set a school record for Division I wins with 22 while our volleyball team posted its most conference wins since moving to the Division I level 20 years ago. The women's tennis team won a Division I-era record 18 matches this season.

As the fall athletic season approaches, I'm excited to share some exciting facilities news. We are in the process of renovating the Blue and Silver Club area at Falcon Stadium. In addition, we are finishing a new driving range at the Eisenhower Golf Course to benefit our team and physical education classes.

We have many superb facilities at the Academy, but we have identified some areas in need of improvement. Our superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, has provided leadership and support of our efforts in these areas, especially in the area of Falcon Stadium renovation. This is one of her top priorities and we are excited to develop the plan moving forward. This will help us to provide exceptional platforms to support all our cadets.

We have made two major head coaching hires I'm excited to share. There was a total team effort in both cases and we found two great leaders in Chris Gobrecht for women's basketball and Blake Baldi for boxing. Chris posted the most wins in school history at two different schools (Yale, Washington) and I'm confident she's going to do great things for our cadet-athletes. Blake returns to the Academy from USA Boxing. He helped lead the Falcons to the 2012 national title during his previous tenure here. Join me in welcoming them to our athletics family.

Lastly, I would like to invite all of you to follow our athletic Twitter accounts. We will utilize more social media to keep our supporters up to date. Our main athletic account is @AF_Falcons. You will also want to follow the AD Twitter at @AF_ADKnowlton. I will provide some timely updates on events in the department and most of our major news will break on my account, so you'll read it there first. We used this Twitter account to break exciting news about a two-game football series with Colorado in 2020 and 2022. Be sure to check out our website at goairforcefalcons.com. We are undergoing a complete redesign of the site, scheduled to go live this month. The site will be responsive and more compatible with mobile devices.

I hope you enjoy the first installment of this monthly communication. Please enjoy the remainder of the summer as my wife, Corey, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at athletic events across the Colorado Springs and Denver communities. Your continued support will ensure Academy athletics represents the excellence of our Academy, our Air Force and our nation for years to come.

Thank You and Go Falcons!