Washington, DC - While he's on shutdown furlough, Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass is getting some love from the National Collegiate Athletic Association for achievements during his undergrad days, when he was on the six-year plan and played baseball with realistic hopes of a future in Major League Baseball. Kass graduated from University of Chicago in 2004, and still holds two all-time career records there. (Above: Ready for a workout in the Kitchen Garden)
Kass is among 40 former student-athletes NCAA is honoring during Division III's year-long fortieth anniversary celebration with its "40-in-40" series. Chosen from 1973 on, all the honorees "exemplify the division’s attributes: Proportion, comprehensive learning, passion, responsibility, sportsmanship and citizenship," NCAA said.
Now 33, in his diamond days Kass played baseball at two community colleges on baseball scholarship before transferring to University of Chicago. A southpaw, Kass played outfield for U of C's Maroons team between 2001-2003, and still ranks No. 7 in the school's history in career batting average (.366), and No. 3 in career stolen bases (36). He was nominated for the 40-in-40 series by Rosalie Resch, U of C's current associate director of athletics.
U of C was familiar territory for Kass, a Chicago native: He attended U of C's Lab School for high school, where he was captain of the varsity baseball team before graduating in 1998 (he also played varsity hoops, a happy coincidence, given his boss's obsession with the game). Kass then played baseball at Kansas City (Kan.) Community College, then transferred to Triton College in suburban Chicago before heading to U of C to finish his schooling and slaughter his opponents on the field of dreams. He left U of C with a degree in U.S. history.
Where does food and cooking fit into the star student-athlete's past? During one of his undergrad summer breaks at U of C, Kass worked in the kitchen at the acclaimed Windy City eatery 312 Chicago. He then spent his final semester at U of C in a program in Vienna, Austria, where he went to work for the acclaimed chef Christian Domschitz at the Morwald im Ambassador.
Kass stayed on after graduation and trained with Domschitz before returning home to Chicago to work at Avec restaurant. He eventually became a private chef for Barack and Michelle Obama. The rest is history...but it's no accident that the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign has a focus on sports and fitness as much as it does on healthy eating.
Kass' honorarium in NCAA.org's 40-in-40 series:
Mr. Kass Goes to Washington
Former Division III baseball player Sam Kass traded in his bat for a chef’s knife and is now preparing meals for President Obama
By Jack Copeland
Sam Kass wanted to be a professional baseball player, so he traveled several hundred miles from home, accepting a scholarship to pursue his dream at a Kansas City-area community college.
But Kass soon returned to the neighborhood he grew up in and enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he earlier had attended the university’s laboratory high school. As a Maroon, the right-fielder’s love for the sport translated into a career .366 batting average, ranking among the best in program history.
However, while following his passion, Kass discovered his potential in another pursuit – as a chef. In addition to playing a sport and studying history, Kass found time to try cooking at a popular Chicago eatery, then traveled abroad during his senior year to train with a renowned Viennese chef and ultimately to work in restaurants around the world.
The next time Kass came home, he soon earned fame as one of Chicago’s rising chefs and an advocate for use of locally grown ingredients. From there, his cooking for Barack Obama and family during the 2008 presidential campaign led to a job in the White House.
Today, he works both as a chef in the executive mansion and as executive director of the “Let’s Move!” initiative to promote healthy eating for children.
*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama