The Mark of Excellence: A look at the NWC All-Sports Trophy

by Miranda Cloyd

The McIlroy-Lewis All-Sports Trophy redefines what it means to be a team in the Northwest Conference. The nature of the award emphasizes the importance of the school’s athletic performance as a whole, not just as individual sports teams. The only way to earn the award is through the combined efforts of all the institution’s teams.

The trophy has been awarded to a Northwest Conference school every year since 1986, according to This award was named for two influential coaches in NWC history. John Lewis of Willamette University coached baseball and basketball and was also the athletic director for 20 years. Jane McIlroy of Linfield College coached five different sports and was the women’s athletic director and a professor.

The award recognizes one school each year, based on the number of points their sports teams collectively earned. Each team gains points based on their final standing in the NWC. First-place teams receive 18 points each, second place gets 16 points, and so on down the line by two-point increments.

Though the first 20 years were heavily dominated by Pacific Lutheran University, which secured the trophy 15 times, more recent years have seen a significant change in winners. Every year since 1999, Whitworth has placed within the top five schools competing for the award but did not win its first trophy until 2005. Whitworth did not win again until 2008 but has since gained momentum, earning the trophy the past five consecutive years.

In this year’s competition for the trophy, Whitworth stands at second place by a margin of one point after fall sports points were compiled in late November. University of Puget Sound holds the lead with 77 points, while Whitworth follows with 76. Willamette is in third place with 73 points.

While the official standings have not been updated for public viewing, Steve Flegel, Whitworth’s assistant director of athletics for sports information,  reports that Whitworth has now pulled into the lead. The success of this winter’s sports contributed to the overtaking of Puget Sound.

“We had an outstanding winter season, scored significantly more points than anybody else,” Flegel said. “Our lead going into the spring is going to be significant.”

Though the only physical benefit of receiving the award is a trophy, to Whitworth’s athletic department, there is a much greater meaning and importance.

“It signifies a well-rounded athletic program that is continually and consistently successful in all of its sports,” Whitworth Athletic Director Aaron Leetch said. “It really signifies that you are accomplishing the goals that are set out for you.”

Often teams are recognized for their success as an individual unit, rather than as a contribution to their school. The All-Sports Trophy changes that trend.

“It demonstrates in a tangible way that we’ve got a strong athletics department across the board,” Flegel said. “We’re interested in celebrating and sustaining success in all of our sports, not just a particular handful of sports.”

Whitworth’s athletic department does not name the trophy as its only goal; they shoot higher, examining the award’s effect  and implications about national standings.

“We want to win [the All-Sports Trophy] every year; that is our goal, without question,” Leetch said. “But that’s not our only goal. We are not content with just having success within our conference; we want to attain success nationally.”

Men’s tennis coach Mike Shanks also believes that this award speaks volumes about Whitworth as an institution beyond athletics.

“We already know that Whitworth is the best place on earth, academically [and] just the Whitworth community,” Shanks said. “To have that extra pride in how we do in athletics, it’s unparalleled.”

Heading into the spring sports season, Whitworth has a shot at securing the trophy for a sixth year in a row.

“We stand a very good chance, if not a great chance, to retain the trophy,” Leetch said. “We will never apologize for wanting to win. We will do whatever it takes within the confines of the game and its rules to win and we won’t apologize.”

The final results of the competition for the McIlroy-Lewis All-Sports Trophy will be determined following the completion of the spring sports season.

Contact Miranda Cloyd at

ONLINE UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article, the All-Sports Trophy standings have been updated. Whitworth has taken the lead after the winter sports points were added to the school totals.

See the NWC website link here for more information.

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