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Fans and former student-athletes rally to support varsity sports

To ensure a future for all 36 varsity sports programs, donors are stepping forward to provide long-term sources of funding. Three generous gifts and a matching challenge set the pace.

Fans and alums have provided unprecedented levels of support for the Cardinal in the past year to help student-athletes achieve excellence in all 36 varsity sports. Gifts from three families led the way, with a total of $40 million in contributions from Carrie Walton Penner, MA ’97, and Greg Penner, MBA ’97; Elizabeth and Bruce Dunlevie, MBA ’84; and Mindy, ’84, ’MBA ’88, and Jesse Rogers, ’79.

Their commitment came largely in the form of matching funds to encourage gifts from others, which has led to new scholarships for student-athletes, coachships to help the Cardinal retain and recruit coaches, and programmatic funds to bolster teams. A portion of the families’ combined gifts also will support renovations to Maples Pavilion, including enhancements to locker rooms and spaces for nutrition and sports medicine programs.

A separate gift from Gene Sykes, MBA ’84, and his family inspired Cardinal donors to contribute to the Buck/Cardinal Club or any of the 36 Cardinal teams. The “Home of Champions Challenge,” which took place during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last summer, generated support from hundreds of fans, who leveraged the match to double their contributions for student-athletes.

“I am tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support from Stanford alumni and fans, and deeply appreciative of the leadership demonstrated by the Penner, Dunlevie, Rogers, and Sykes families,” said Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of Stanford University. “These families gave not only generously but strategically, creating opportunities for many others to join together in supporting the university’s commitment to athletic excellence.”

Altogether, donors committed a total of $76 million to Stanford Athletics in 2020-21, making it the most successful fundraising year in the history of Cardinal Athletics. Recent gifts have included programmatic funds and coachships for multiple sports, including wrestling, field hockey, men’s volleyball, women’s basketball, and baseball.

Hands hold up an NCAA trophy

A path forward for all 36 sports

“Alumni have shown an entirely new level of interest in giving to athletics, and their support has shifted Stanford Athletics into a much stronger position,” said Jon Denney, Stanford’s vice president for development. 

Stanford’s commitment to the future of all 36 sports will require a sustained fundraising effort, however, as the financial challenges facing Stanford Athletics remain in place. “In order to pursue athletic excellence at the highest level, we estimate needing at least $300 million in additional philanthropic support over the next few years,” Denney said.

Much of the broad support for athletics came in response to the announcement that Stanford would be able to reverse a 2020 decision to discontinue 11 sports. In part, that decision was made possible because alumni, parents, and other donors had stepped forward with pledges of $30 million, spurred by a group called 36 Sports Strong. 

And with the pandemic slowly lifting its shadow on competitions, there is reason for optimism. 

“The incredible dedication of Cardinal fans inspires our student-athletes daily,” said Bernard Muir, who is the Jaquish & Kenninger Director of Athletics. “Our student-athletes continue to excel both athletically and academically, and the Cardinal faithful are critical to both our current and long-term success.”

Philanthropists leading the way

The families who stepped forward with major gifts for the Cardinal are longtime supporters of Stanford whose gifts and volunteer service have benefited many parts of campus. 

Carrie Walton Penner serves on the board of the Walton Family Foundation and as a member of Stanford’s Board of Trustees; she also has served on the Graduate School of Education Advisory Council and the Gardner Center Advisory Board. Greg Penner is the chair of Wal-Mart Stores. He has served on the Stanford Athletic Board, the DAPER Investment Fund, and the Graduate School of Business Advisory Council. Together, they have made gifts supporting Athletics, the Hoover Institution, and the Graduate School of Education.

Elizabeth Dunlevie is board chair at the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health and a board member at Packard Children’s Hospital. Bruce Dunlevie is a general partner in Woodside-based Benchmark Capital; he has served on the Board of Trustees of Stanford University and as chairman of the board of Stanford Management Company. Their gifts have supported Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford Medicine, the humanities, and the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. 

Mindy Rogers serves on Stanford’s Board of Trustees and is chair of the board’s Committee on Athletics. She is a member of the Haas Center’s National Advisory Board, the board of directors at Stanford Healthcare, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, and a past member of the Graduate School of Education Advisory Council. Jesse Rogers is a managing director of Altamont Capital Partners in Palo Alto and serves as vice chair of the advisory board of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy and Research. He served on the Executive Committee of the Stanford Athletic Board and chaired the Strategy Committee of the DAPER Investment Fund. Together, they have served on the Parents’ Advisory Board and have generously supported many areas at Stanford, including the arts, athletics, the Graduate School of Education, the Graduate School of Business, and funds for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Gene Sykes, a member of Stanford’s Board of Trustees, is a managing director at Goldman Sachs and was instrumental in securing the 2028 Summer Olympics for the United States as CEO of LA28. He is also a member of the board’s Special Committee on Investment Responsibility, a member of the Graduate School of Business Advisory Council, and previously served on the School of Earth Sciences Task Force, the Development Task Force for Volunteer Engagement, and as a class reunion campaign chair. He and his wife, Tracy Moritz Sykes, have supported the Graduate School of Business and endowed the Sykes Family Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources Directorship Fund.

This story originally appeared in Stanford Report.