Teaching for Half a Century
by Kevin Gray
The love Wib Leonard, Ph.D. ’65 has for teaching has not waned across the decades. In fact, he is as passionate about his profession now as he was when he first started teaching at Illinois State University 51 years ago — a duration that makes Leonard the longest-teaching professor in the school’s history.
The reasons for Leonard’s longevity within the profession are two-fold: his love for his students and his passion for the topic.
“I never imagined that I would be a teacher for this long, but what has kept me in teaching and passionate about it is interacting with the students,” explains Leonard, who was a psychology major at Albright and teaches data analytics/social statistics and the sociology of sport at Illinois State.
Still, Leonard’s length of service in the classroom is surpassed by his years as an athlete, coach and sports fan. A multi-sport athlete, Leonard still holds the record for scoring (56 points) in a basketball game at Northern Cambria High School.
At Albright, he played one year of basketball and four years of football. Following graduation, he received tryout offers from two professional football teams (“Although,” he adds, “I was smart enough to know I never would have made it.”)
“I still have camaraderie with some of my Albright teammates,” he says. “The social cohesion that takes place through shared experiences can create strong bonds that endure.”
The lessons Leonard learned as an athlete — such as determination, perseverance and a dogged work ethic — have fueled him throughout his professional career. They also have helped create a generous drive to share knowledge and experience that has spanned a lifetime.
“Certainly, I could have retired 15 years ago if I wanted to, but I very much enjoy teaching. The person who I am intrinsically dovetails with the university setting.”
A Family Profession
Teaching was a natural fit for Leonard, who grew up in a family of teachers. His father was a professor at St. Francis University in Loretta, Pa. and several of his aunts and uncles were teachers in public schools.
“My father said that by becoming a teacher, I would never become rich, but that wasn’t my concern,” Leonard laughs.
Instead, he has been rewarded in other ways. Leonard explains that he has always loved communicating what he learns. He accomplishes this by lecturing, of course, but also by writing books, including “A Sociological Perspective of Sport,” a textbook that is now in its sixth edition and is a foundational tool of his class.
“Sports are certainly a passion for many people, me included,” says Leonard, who earned his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate from The Ohio State University.
“At Ohio State, I decided to combine my profession with my avocational interest. That led me to develop the first course in the sociology of sport at Illinois State.”
In his book and his class, Leonard applies the fundamental principles, ideas, concepts and theories of sociology to provide a somewhat new perspective on the world of sports.
“Often,” he says, “when people think of sport, they think of the physical component: the strength, agility and speed. However, as a sociologist, I want to demonstrate how the social component is just as valuable.”
A distinguished lecturer, Leonard has received various awards of distinction and university grants. He is past president of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport and has been a faculty representative to the university’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
But perhaps best honoring his many contributions, is the “Wib Leonard Scholarship” at Illinois State — awarded each year to a promising student majoring in sociology or anthropology.