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St. Ambrose director of athletics Ray Shovlain speaks Sunday at a reception honoring his 25 years of leadership in the school's athletics department.

Ray Shovlain figures he still has plenty of work to do at St. Ambrose, but the university which has benefited from his leadership for the past quarter of a century took time Sunday to recognize his accomplishments.

St. Ambrose president Sister Joan Lescinski announced during a reception honoring Shovlain that the athletics office complex at the university’s Wellness & Recreation Center has been named to honor the school’s director of athletics for the past 25 years.

“Like a lot of longtime employees, faculty and staff, coach Ray is part of the fabric of this institution,’’ Lescinski said. “And the best part of this is that he will continue to be just that well into the future, doing what he enjoys doing the most, coaching, teaching and working with young people.’’

Shovlain will continue to coach the basketball program he has led since 1983, teach business courses and oversee the Leadership Academy which encourages St. Ambrose student athletes to become active participants in the community. He will also assist in helping raise funds for the athletics department.

But on July 1, Shovlain will hand over the reins of an athletics department which has experienced unprecedented growth during his tenure to Mike Holmes.

Lescinski pointed out that when Shovlain took over as the director of athletics at his alma mater, St. Ambrose had 350 students participating in 16 athletics programs.

Today, more than 800 students participate in 29 programs operated by the athletics department which is housed in a new facility that Lescinski labeled "a dream come true.''

“I don’t know if I ever envisioned our department becoming what it has become, but I’m proud of the opportunities we’ve been able to provide to students to participate,’’ Shovlain said. “St. Ambrose has come a long way.’’

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Lescinski praised the leadership Shovlain has shown while advocating for the school to provide expanded opportunities, saying St. Ambrose has frequently been at the forefront of adding new and evolving sports to its lineup.

She also recognized his style of frequently crediting those around him.

“He’s always giving others credit, but he deserves a little himself,’’ said Lescinski, calling that an extension of his basketball career with the Fighting Bees when Shovlain established school single-season and career assist records that remain in the record books.

Shovlain took time Sunday to thank family members, coaches, staff members and the student-athletes he has worked with throughout his tenure.

He recalled accepting his first job at St. Ambrose, hired by Leo Kilfoy as an assistant basketball coach.

The position paid $500 a year, had no benefits and allowed him to enroll in graduate-level courses although it didn’t cover the cost of tuition.

“It was the best decision I’ve ever made, with the exception of asking my wife (Betsy) to marry me, the best decision,’’ Shovlain said. "This place means a lot to me.''

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