In 1967, Wib Leonard first stepped into the classroom to teach as a graduate student. He took one look at the room full of students staring at him, set his books down on the desk, turned around and walked to the water cooler down the hall. “I’ll never forget as clearly as I am sitting here. I thought to myself, ‘How am I ever going to pull this off?’” said Leonard. Yet pull it off he did. After earning his doctorate in sociology in 1970 at The Ohio State University, Leonard came to Illinois State. This year Leonard will celebrate his 45th year of teaching at ISU. He sat down to talk about his time at the University – from the changing face of campus, to why the fall still gives him a few butterflies. “They tell me of the current faculty, no one has been here longer,” said Leonard, looking out the window of his office in Schroeder Hall. “I was 26 years old when I arrived at ISU, and – oh gosh – there was no Bone Student Center, no Milner Library, no sports complexes or Weibring Golf Course.” Glancing over at Milner, he added, “My family used to live in an apartment on Normal Avenue, and I would walk to work up a road where the library now stands.” Leonard studied both psychology and sociology in his graduate work, and came to Illinois State to teach social psychology. “It was a perfect combination of my interests,” he said, then added with a smile. “Of course, I also teach statistics. It’s not one of those courses students generally desire, so I needed a way to make it interesting.” He turned to sports as an answer. Leonard’s prowess on the field in high school in Pennsylvania led to a football scholarship at Albright College, where he led the team as captain. “I have always had an interest in sports, not just as a player, but as a spectator,” said Leonard. “The nice thing about sociology is that any interest you have, you can usually carve it into something professional.”

image of Wib Leonard

Wib Leonard celebrates his 45th year of teaching at Illinois State this year.

Yet it is more than sports that keeps Leonard coming back to the classroom year after year. He insists the key to his longevity is finding the perfect balance in academia. “You could say teaching is in my DNA,” said Leonard, who has more than 230 years of combined teaching experience between himself, his father, three uncles and two aunts. “But being in administration? Not so much in my DNA,” he added with a wink. Despite his long tenure, Leonard has never taken on the role of department chair. “I’ve always just enjoyed the writing, the teaching and the research.”  Soon after he arrived at Illinois State, Leonard quickly developed the first course in the sociology of sports, which he has taught for more than 40 years. That work led to scholarship and the textbook A Sociological Perspective of Sport, which is now in its sixth edition. In the introduction to the book, Leonard puts into words his connection to sports. “The final beauty of writing this text resides in the fact that one of my lifelong loves, interests, passions and activities – sports – can be fashioned into a professional contribution,” he wrote. The book has been adopted more than 200 times at colleges and universities across the nation. Even after 45 years of teaching, Leonard said he still gets that flutter of anxiety when it comes time to face a new class. “There is that little bit of extra energy every fall, when things are first starting. I’m a little bit curious, wondering how it will go. Even to this day,” he said. Leonard has gotten to know many students over his tenure, and said his connection with them has a familiar feel. “Looking back, there is almost a time warp. In a way, it doesn’t matter if it’s September of 2014 or September of 1974, there is still the same excitement, same worries, same hopes with students,” he said. “Sometimes it’s tough to figure them out. Yet from an academic and social standpoint, most of them are pretty pleasant people, and that has always been the case.” He will admit that some things do change over the years. “When I first came, I was not that much older than the seniors. Years go by and I am their parents’ age. More years go by and I am their grandparents’ age,” he said with a laugh. Leonard has seen his four children graduate from Illinois State, and now he has grandchildren the same age as many ISU students. “My grandson looked me up on Rate Your Professor, and said to me, ‘Grandpa, they think you are okay. You have that grandfather image.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I have been in denial.’ Time does pass. If you are lucky, you can be thankful for that time. And I am very thankful.”