Grossmont College alum returns to home field to head athletics program
As a former student athlete and successful college coach, Thomas Armstrong knows a lot about executing winning game plans.
As Grossmont College’s new associate dean of athletics, Armstrong is now diagramming x’s and o’s for a program that has in the past three years twice won honors as the most successful intercollegiate athletic program in the 10-college Pacific Coast Athletic Conference.
The San Diego native and Grossmont College alumnus is happy to return to home turf after a succession of jobs in college athletics, most recently as the associate dean of student services and athletics at Barstow Community College in San Bernardino County.
“I am a Griffin – I want to retire as a Griffin,” said Armstrong, who received his bachelor’s in kinesiology from Humboldt State University and his master’s in education with an emphasis in physical education and health from Western Oregon University.
As associate dean of athletics, Armstrong heads the program and its 17 teams and coaching staff, and also oversees student eligibility in athletics.
A football player during his community college and university years, Armstrong understands the challenges of balancing school and athletics, adding that at Grossmont, many student athletes also have jobs. Some 350 student-athletes participate in the college’s 10 women’s and seven men’s teams. About a quarter continue their athletic careers at the four-year level.
For many students – particularly those with their eyes set on scholarship offers to universities or even careers as pro athletes – athletics is the draw to community college and what motivates them to earn good grades. For others, athletics is what gets them engaged in campus life.
A recent survey of the athletes shows that nearly 60 percent said they chose Grossmont College specifically for its athletics program, which administrators say has a strong reputation for its commitment to academic success. The program this week achieved a milestone by completing comprehensive education plans for every athlete, an effort that involved intensive work and the commitment of counselors, coaches and administrators.
The education plans vastly improve the college’s ability to track students’ academic progress and to take early action when athletes are struggling in classes. Marsha Gable, vice president of Student Services, said the college is expanding student orientations for its athletes to include more counseling and to increase awareness of student resources such as financial aid and tutoring.
“We can ensure that we are doing everything possible academically to assist our students and make sure they are transfer eligible,” Gable said.
Armstrong has first-hand knowledge of how the successful marriage of athletics and academics can have a life-changing impact on students.
“Athletics opened doors for me personally,” Armstrong said. “It allotted opportunities and really inspired me to pursue a career in this field so that I could now assist young people and help open avenues for them.”
Growing up in San Diego, Armstrong’s childhood revolved around sports and from the time he was a student at University City High School, lettering in three varsity sports, he aspired to become a college coach.
College coaching positions are a tough gig to acquire and Armstrong followed coaching and teaching jobs in various places, including North Dakota, Nebraska, Oregon and Palm Desert in California before his first administrative position at Barstow Community College. Over the years, he coached several women’s softball teams to conference titles and state playoffs, and earned Coach of the Year awards twice in the Inland Empire’s Foothill Conference.
His coaching years now behind him, Armstrong said he’s happy to have a job that allows him to maintain close contact with students.
“As an administrator I can assist larger groups of young people with academics, with matriculation, and with opportunities,” he said.
Armstrong said returning to Grossmont College has been the highlight of his career, pointing to the strength of the Griffin athletics program, which in July won the Chet DeVore Award for the second time in three years for having the winningest intercollegiate athletic program in its league. With resources like Grossmont’s Griffin Academic Assistance Program that provides advising and help to students maintain athletic eligibility, Armstrong also praised the college for its persistent focus on student success.
“I feel like I’ve come home,” he said. “Grossmont College is the perfect place for me.”