Entering Dartmouth as an 18-year-old basketball player, Peter Roby had some challenges to overcome. But now he is a respected voice for social justice within college athletics.
Virtually all his life, Peter Roby has used sports as a vehicle for more -- and basketball at Dartmouth was an escape into a whole new world of opportunity.
Growing up in New Britain, Conn., no one in Roby's family had gone to college. His parents, who worked in the factories, had never even gone to high school.
"I didn't have much to compare to but I had just kind of envisioned what college might be like," says Roby. "So when I went to Hanover I was interested in getting out of the city environment and that really struck me as the place I wanted to go."
Once at Dartmouth, Roby was not prepared for the academic rigors that ensued, and as a result, found some difficulty adjusting. "I certainly struggled academically on and off, trying to find the balance and I don't think I was mature to get down to it as I should have," remembers Roby. "In my case I probably learned more on the basketball court and through my connection with [Head Coach] Gary [Walters] than I did in the classroom."
Roby was not recruited to Dartmouth by Walters but they arrived in Hanover together, and after a year on the freshman team, Roby was a starter on Walters' varsity squad as a sophomore. More importantly for Roby, Walters' "character-based" coaching style was teaching him and his teammates valuable life lessons off the court as well.
"Seeing Gary as an example of what a coach could do in terms of impacting how you think about the world and reaching your potential as a person and thinking bigger than just what was happening on the court, the idea of using basketball or sports to really change people's lives or make them better people was an inspiration to me, and it was the model that I wanted to emulate."
After his sophomore year, Roby saw his playing time increasingly diminish. By the time he was made a senior co-captain in 1978-79, he was playing sparingly but credits the coaching staff with keeping him motivated to work hard in practice every day and push the first team to be prepared.
"I really relished that role and I think that experience really helped me to appreciate the coaching profession and what I might be able to do," says Roby.
When Walters left Dartmouth for Providence College after Roby's senior year, he had the privilege of sitting in on the hiring process. With the help of Dartmouth grad and current Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, who Roby lists as a long-time mentor, he joined the new coaching staff as an assistant. After brief stints at Army and Stanford, Roby became an assistant at Harvard for three years before being hired as the head man in 1985, making him -- at just 28 years old --
the second youngest head coach in Division I at the time.
After six seasons at the helm in Cambridge, Roby was ready to test himself in the business world. In 1991 he began working for Reebok International, where he started as a promotions manager, dealing with the college coaches and professional teams under contract with the company. Roby was ultimately promoted to vice president of U.S. marketing.
"I loved my time there. It was a really fascinating industry and I learned an awful lot," says Roby. "One of the things that was really gratifying was that so much of what I'd learned as an athlete and as a coach, really helped me to distinguish myself in business."
Today, Roby works as the director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, where he continues to use sport as a means for impacting lives. As director of what he describes as "a social justice organization that uses sport to create change," Roby runs a staff of former collegiate, professional, and Olympic athletes trained to work with America's youth in dealing with issues of diversity, conflict resolution and violence prevention.
"What's great about the role that I'm in now is that I'm continuing to use sport to make a difference in people's lives like I did when I went into coaching," says Roby. "In a lot of ways I feel like I've been preparing myself for this role since I was in college."
Roby's old coach and mentor Gary Walters speaks highly of his former player today. "He's become an eloquent spokesperson on issues surrounding sports," says Walters, who currently serves as Princeton's director of athletics. "His values are grounded in the role that athletics can play and does play in creating a holistic education. He is somebody that really should be in a position of leadership as it relates to intercollegiate athletics."
Player, coach, businessman, and now social activist, Peter Roby still looks back to his Dartmouth playing days as a time that was influential to everything that has followed.
"I'm pretty certain that whatever success I've had, or whatever contributions I've been able to make to the world -- none of that stuff would be nearly as rich as it has been without athletics in my life."
— Wesley Harris