This article appears in the Fall 2018 edition of Nebraska Quarterly, the magazine of the Nebraska Alumni Association. That edition also features a more in-depth look at the College of Engineering. For more about the magazine, click this link.
It’s Tuesday, and Lance C. Pérez, the newly installed dean of the College of Engineering, is on his way to one of his favorite activities: the Nebraska Barons’ wheelchair softball practice in Omaha.
“It comes down to priorities, and wheelchair sports is one of my highest,” said Pérez, who before becoming interim engineering dean in 2016 was Nebraska’s dean of graduate studies and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “It helps me have work-life balance and it’s important for my health, and it’s fun.”
Pérez has always been an athlete. He brought this passion for wheelchair athletics when he joined the engineering faculty in 1996.
Soon after, he connected with the Madonna Magic basketball team, a sport that takes quite a physical toll. Pérez said he has “broken every finger on both hands and had shoulder surgery several times.”
About a decade ago, he joined the Barons. They are the most successful team in the U.S., with 11 national championships and three second-place finishes in 15 years.
NOTE: In August, after Nebraska Quarterly went to print, the Nebraska Barons won a 12th national championship.
Wheelchair softball is also demanding. Players don’t wear gloves in the field and must have speed and agility to make defensive plays.
That’s especially so for Pérez, who plays third base, dubbed the “hot corner.”
“We have the best outfielders in the world, and they know when they throw the ball, I’ll catch it,” Pérez said.
This ability is one reason Pérez will be on Team USA at the 2018 Japan Wheelchair Softball Championships in October. He was on the 2016 team that won the inaugural title and was selected to the all-tournament team.
“Playing sports is just part of who I am. More importantly, my teammates are some of my very best friends,” Pérez said. “We’ve spent hundreds of hours driving around the country playing in tournaments.”
Those relationships have also deepened his Nebraska roots. In his 50s now, Pérez looks forward to many more years as the dean of Engineering, and at third base.
“When I was hired 22 years ago, I didn’t factor this in, but there’s no question that the community around wheelchair athletics in Nebraska has helped keep me here,” he added. “It will be a sad day when I have to stop playing.”
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