In June 2023, Jim Sterk became Western Washington University’s seventh director of athletics in the 109 years the university has been open. He rejoined the community to work with student-athletes who are where he once was at Western.
“Noticing all the changes walking through campus brought back a lot of memories,” Sterk said. “Even though Carver [Gymnasium]’s renovated, coming into Carver there were a lot of memories on the basketball court.”
Sterk was born in Bellingham, raised in Everson and attended Nooksack Valley High School. During his collegiate career, he played four years for Western’s football team and basketball for one year. His success as defensive captain of the football team entered him into the Athletics Hall of Fame at Western.
Nooksack Valley High School’s Athletic Director Tom Harmon played football at Western with Sterk from 1974 to 1977. The two played on defense and have maintained a relationship since meeting.
“From day one, Jim was always an excellent teammate and an excellent multi-sport athlete,” Harmon said.
Now, getting to work with coaches and student-athletes is something Sterk highly values. He said his goal is to create the best student-athlete experience while building relationships with players and coaches.
“Their athletic, academic and personal experience are three areas that I really focus on trying to improve, help and support the coaches and the student-athletes through that journey,” Sterk said.
Through keeping in touch with Paul Madison, Western’s athletic historian, Sterk always had the idea of coming back to Western, he just wasn’t sure when that would happen.
“He let me know when [the job] was going to open and I started thinking about it nine months before it actually happened,” Sterk said.
This gave Sterk the opportunity to talk with his family and figure out if this was the right time to come back to Bellingham.
After a journey that found him working in eight different states, Sterk was brought back to Washington and his hometown, leaving San Diego State University. He said he always loved it here and was excited to come full circle.
“A lot of memories came flowing back as I walked on campus each of those first few days,” Sterk said.
Kevin White, Duke University’s former athletic director, worked with Sterk from 1987 to 1991 at the University of Maine before both moving over to Tulane University from 1991 to 1995. The two worked together for almost a decade and enjoyed every second.
“In just a few short words I would say that Western Washington [University] hit the lottery with the hiring of Jim Sterk,” White said.
Sterk and White became very good work friends throughout their careers and to this day still keep in touch. The two went to Italy this summer with their wives and now have a friendship to replace a largely professional relationship.
Sterk hosted many events at his past schools which allowed younger students to come to the college campuses and learn why they should think about going to college. He was able to invite the kids to attend athletic events and show them the sports side of college.
“He’s best when he’s just able to be himself and there’s nobody better,” White said. “I think he’s the very best AD in the country.”
Madi Tessem is a sports reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a PR major and communications minor. In her free time she likes to read, watch sports and hangout with her cat. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org