Bill and Nancy Arce: The First Family of CMS Athletics

The Arce family name is indelibly stamped on the Claremont McKenna College and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athletics communities. Arce Field. The William B. Arce Scholarship Fund and the William B. Arce Professorship at CMC. The William B. & Nancy T. Arce Hall of Excellence in Roberts Pavilion.

The legacy of the First Family and Father and Mother of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athletics lives on through the coaches, student-athletes, and staff members at CMS and CMC.

Bill Arce P’80, the architect of the CMS program and founding director of athletics and head Stag baseball coach, passed away on March 7, 2016. Nine months to the day (December 7, 2016) after her dearly loved husband passed away, Nancy Arce P’80 did as well. Married for almost 66 years and together for nearly 70 years, the two met during their college years at Stanford University. Bill, recently having returned from World War II, was an infielder and captain on the Stanford baseball team. The nine months after Bill passed away, from March 7 to December 7, was the longest time the two were ever apart.

During their time together, the two dedicated their lives to family, teaching, and being supportive and loving role models and friends to the hundreds, if not thousands of people they met in Claremont and around the world.

A World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Coach Arce made a promise to himself that if he survived the war, he would endeavor to find a career that would contribute to American society. He saw that promise through.

“In a letter, my Dad wrote to one of his fellow soldiers about teamwork and how he learned a lot from the war about working together to accomplish a common goal, said Jeff Arce ’80, son of Nancy and Bill. “Unfortunately in war, the common goal is usually trying to kill the enemy. He [Bill] felt that going into education as a career would be a great way to learn and develop skills in leadership and teamwork, but doing it from teaching and from coaching, rather than war.”

What followed for Coach Arce was a 27-year tenure as head baseball coach and CMS athletic director. During those years, he laid the foundation for both the philosophy and program of what was a startup athletic department in 1956. He pioneered Claremont-Mudd (now Claremont-Mudd-Scripps) into one of the top NCAA Division III college programs in the country today.

"As our founding coach of coaches, Coach Arce contributed so much to our community and country: from Battle of the Bulge to the singular success of his global championships," said CMC President Hiram Chodosh. "Each day we commit and reach for his and Nancy's inspired example."

“His philosophy is pervasive in our department today,” said Randy Town, former Stag head baseball coach and current CMS Associate Director for Athletic Operations and Director of Physical Education. “The work ethic that the coaches have has a lot to do with Bill’s efforts to make us competitive. He was a guy that had knowledge about the future. He just knew what this place’s [CMC and CMS] potential was and he had a vision on how to accomplish his goals.”

Terrance Tumey, current CMS Director of Athletics, Physical Education & Recreational Services and the William B. Arce Professor and George R. Roberts Fellow, agreed: “The values that they [Nancy and Bill] stood on are essential to the program we have today and the comprehensive excellence we expect for CMS Athletics moving forward.”

Educating students for life beyond sports, a balance between athletics and academics, the equal importance of all sports (no such thing as major or minor sports), and prioritizing opportunity for women in sports were all staples of Coach Arce’s leadership.

“Swimming and water polo were every bit as important as basketball and football to Coach Arce,” said former Stag water polo and swim & dive head coach Mike Sutton ’76. “We understood and he made it very clear that he would support us all so we could be successful and go as far as our talent would take us.”

With CMS’ dominance in the SCIAC All-Sports trophy standings, rise nationally in the Division III Directors’ Cup standings, and the success of Athenas and Stags both as students and athletes, Coach Arce’s founding principles permeate through the department to this day.

“He established a philosophy that I think has carried through in all of my time here in that the student is the priority and education is what we are doing,” current head women’s golf coach Jodie Burton said. Burton also won over 500 games and six SCIAC championships as the head coach of CMS’ women’s basketball team.

“What I really enjoyed was hearing the history of the program that I was not familiar with when I came to Claremont,” head baseball coach Bill Walkenbach said. “To hear what he did, not only for CMS baseball but for CMS Athletics and learn about the process he went through and what he was able to do for women in sport and be a leader on that front. That was the most memorable thing I had the opportunity to experience.”

Nancy and Bill had many shared values. Nancy too was an educator. She taught special education and became very involved in the lives of students as the head of several different Parent Teacher Associations in the Claremont Unified School District. She also started a non-profit organization called Supportive Parents Are Necessary (SPAN) that focused on the holistic teaching of children beyond the classroom. The efforts of this organization took her into the homes of children to meet with parents and help parents learn how to support their special needs children. She ran that program for 10 years.

“They were both very interested in helping other people reach their best outcomes,” Jeff Arce said. “She was a force in the education system within Claremont for a time.”

Nancy also believed that women should have the same opportunities as men did to compete in sports. Today, of the 21 NCAA Division III varsity sports CMS sponsors, 11 are women’s teams.

“Women’s athletics were really important and Nancy believed that women should be able to have same rights in all things,” Jeff Arce said.  “Frankly, she was a bit competitive and we would hear her say ‘well women should be able to do that too, you know.’ She was a smart lady.”

As a fan, Nancy supported both the Athenas and Stags, no matter the sport. Bill did as well. As young CMS coaches, both Jodie Burton and Mike Sutton felt the backing of the Arces through good times and tough times. Bill would leave notes of support after a big win. Nancy would always offer a hug to show she cared. Coaches, staff members, and student-athletes became family to Bill and Nancy, and vice versa.

A big part of the family was the CMS baseball community. Coach Arce coached hundreds of Stags and affected their lives in profound ways both on the field and in life.

“What I learned from playing for him that I have carried on throughout my life is an attention to detail,” said David Arkell ’66, CMS Hall of Famer and former Stag baseball player. “He was very focused on the details of playing baseball and of being a baseball player, and that eventually carried over in my case into the rest of my life.”

Practices were always very well organized and efficient. Coach Arce, an ultimate student of the game, carried a notepad with him at practice every day. Players recall Coach being an upbeat, positive leader who placed an importance on education and understood the demands on a Division III student-athlete at the highly selective Claremont Colleges.

“He was what I believe to be the quintessential role model for a Division III coach,” former Stag baseball player and current CMC Trustee Bob Nakasone ’69 P’98 said.

CMC President Emeritus Jack L. Stark added, “He was a real man of character, and of course professionally as the baseball coach and director, he was superb at that. His personal character is a major part of what attracted students and other members of his athletics team to him.”

Coach Arce led the Stags to 443 wins and three SCIAC championships during his time as head coach. Over the years, many CMS baseball teams had the opportunity to travel overseas (Holland, Italy, and France) and play for Coach Arce. For many of the wins by the Stags, both here and abroad, Nancy cheered on from the stands. Sometimes she did a little more than cheer.

“My Dad would be in the dugout and my Mom would be in the bleachers and so sometimes the umpire was hearing it from both of them,” Jeff Arce said. “My Mom was probably more vocal to the umpires than my Dad was, and my Dad could be pretty vocal sometimes.”

Away from the baseball diamond, Nancy really enjoyed getting to know the baseball team members, either by traveling with the team to Europe from time to time, or by having the team over annually for her popular lasagna feast. Traveling to Europe and the Netherlands with the team and her husband and making countless lifetime friends around the world were among her favorite memories with the Stags. After all, the growth of international baseball also carried a great deal of importance to Coach Arce.

In addition to his work in Claremont, Coach Arce was instrumental in growing the game of baseball internationally, as evidenced by his inductions into the Dutch and Italian baseball halls of fame. His passion for youth development and the growth of world baseball led him in 1985 to found International Sports Group, Inc. (ISG). In 2000, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) selected Coach Arce as its recipient of the Lefty Gomez Award, an award presented each year to a single individual who has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally, and internationally.

For his years of dedication and valuable work, Coach Arce was inducted into the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and ABCA Halls of Fame and received the SCIAC Distinguished Service Award. In 2006, 21 of the 24 players on the 1966 Stag team that played for Coach Arce and traveled to Holland, came back for a 40-year reunion. In 2014, many friends, colleagues, alumni, and former student-athletes of Coach Arce joined together and nominated Coach Arce for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Those were just a few examples showing Coach Arce’s impact and how loved he was. In her own way, Nancy made a similar lasting impression on people.

All around the world, Nancy and Bill were loved and respected for the relationships they developed, the life they led, and the incredible amount of good they accomplished together. Even now with Bill and Nancy gone, their shared values can be seen in the lives they touched and the legacy they left behind.