He never asked to be known as the 2015 College Athletic Director of the Year. He didn’t ask to be remembered as the man who re-introduced Franciscan University to NCAA Division III Athletics. Because for more than twenty years the success of Chris Ledyard, who recently accepted a position at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California, existed as a byproduct of his faith, and nothing else.
On paper, Ledyard’s fingerprint on the university is indelible. Terms like “NCAA athletics” and “AMCC championship” hint at Ledyard’s insistence to the Board of Trustees as to the importance of regimented competition. Off the record, Ledyard impressed as a man of faith perhaps more than as an ambassador for athletics.
“The thing that I loved most about Chris was that he has this unbounded love for other people,” said Christina Pavlov, assistant to the athletic director during her time at the university. “It was such a loving environment.”
Pavlov’s two years at the university, she said, provided ample time to appreciate Ledyard as a man seldom focused on himself. “It was all about other people for Chris,” she said. “It’s like you’ve known him your whole life, because that’s the way that he makes you feel.”
“The first thing that people should know is that he always put his faith first,” said Brian Duggan, a junior majoring in theology and catechetics, employed in 2015 as administrative and financial assistant to the athletic department.
Duggan spoke to the “authentic” environment that Chris established in the department. “I want to thank him for being an example of what a real man of God is and for being a witness to the faith no matter where he goes, no matter the odds,” Duggan said.
“People would go into his office and just ask for advice,” said Duggan, “And unless he had a meeting, he would devote as much time as he could to them.” His office had a swinging door, as the genuine man behind it sought first to be available.
Duggan recalled with a laugh various examples of far-out proposals made to Ledyard, propositions which from the seat could never be implemented at the university. However, “he listened to every single one,” said Duggan, “before giving his opinion.”
Ledyard understood successful athletics. As early as 1990, he was coaching track and field for Weirton’s Madonna High School. Under his direction, individual athletes frequently qualified for state championships.
He was also well aware of the relationship between character and academics. Ledyard saw that Franciscan University became the first university in the nation to partner with SportsLeader, a Catholic formational program for coaches and athletes alike.
“He built the athletic department from the ground up,” recalled Mary Raskob, director of sports information at Franciscan. “Without his dedication to … athletics, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
As both student and staff member, Raskob witnessed Ledyard in action. “He let coaches coach, and he got a lot of people to buy into athletics here,” she said, a testament to Ledyard’s understanding of playing to workplace strengths.
Ledyard remained dedicated as athletic director to a program that did not for a second prioritize anything, least of all athletics, over the development of student-athletes as disciples of faith. After the annual 2015 athlete compliance meeting, Ledyard distributed an athlete-centered devotional series, and he personally led post-match prayer circles.
Through it all, the man’s unshakeable faith and personality allowed for him to exercise his role as athletic director, gracing the university with insight not limited to his knowledge of athletics.
If anything embodies Ledyard, Raskob said, it remains the joy he derived from watching individuals grow in athletic ability and faith alike. “He found great joy in watching our student athletes compete for their love of the Lord,” she said.
On October 3, Chris Ledyard will suit up for another team for the first time in twenty years. He will don the JSerra Catholic High School Lion logo like he once did the Baron, with all the pride and determination that characterized his time at Franciscan University as a success.
Where authentic Catholic manhood meets a passion for virtuous competition, there you will find Chris Ledyard. Expect the authentic smile on his face to give witness to the faith he lives.