You may have seen them on the sidelines, in the stands, or heading off to meetings; but what does an athletic director really do? This summer, on each Friday, we will take you behind the desk with the heads of the athletic departments from St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference member institutions. This week's interview is with Fontbonne University Director of Athletics Maria Buckel.
Fontbonne University Director of Athletics has seen the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference through the eyes, first as a student-athlete, and now as an administrator in a member institution.
You are entering your eighth year at Fontbonne, what are some goals that you are proud to have achieved?
"There are so many things that I am proud of during my tenure at Fontbonne. The most significant impact that I have been able to be a par to f would have to be adding full-time staff. When I took over as A.D. we only had two full-time coaches within athletics. We have since increased that number to eight. We have also been able to bring on Danielle Donze full-time as our Director of Communications/Senior Women Administrator and Ann Schmerbauch on full-time as a second full-time athletic trainer. It has been amazing to get to work with so many people and help them to develop themselves not only as professionals and people but also see the impact that they have on our student-athletes. I have also been able to advocate for increases to our operating budget to support our department and in turn our student-athletes. Further, we have started the Griffin Club during my tenure which is a booster club. This year we have developed a Griffin Club Executive Team which will be our external leadership team that will provide direction, support, and leadership in uniting and organizing alumni as well as friends of Fontbonne Athletics. We have also been able to create a stronger structure with policies and procedures which are not that exciting but essential to running a department. It has been challenging yet so rewarding to serve as the Director of Athletics at Fontbonne."
You are a graduate of Fontbonne and were a two-sport athlete so you have first-hand knowledge of what it means to be a Division III student-athlete. Can you describe what that means?
"Division III was the right fit for me. I was recruited as a women's basketball player but was afforded the opportunity to play women's volleyball as well. Beyond being a two-sport student-athlete, I was able to focus on my academics and develop strong relationships with coaches, friends, instructors, and administrators. These relationships have been a key to my happiness in my personal life and have also led me to where I am today. Coach Lee McKinney, former Director of Athletics and Head Men's Basketball Coach, was a mentor of mine and made me aspire to a college athletic director. Former Fontbonne President, Dr. Dennis Golden was instrumental in me pursuing my masters and advised me to seek jobs outside of my comfort zone in order to push myself; which led me to the University of Evansville prior to returning to Fontbonne. Both of my coaches, Keith Quigley and Kim Kutis, helped me to see things in myself that have made me a more confident leader. These relationships are Division III for me. Without these and many others, I would not be the person I am or be in the position I am today. I see these same things happening with our staff and the student-athletes we serve. I could not recommend it more."
What do you like most about being an athletic director? Why did you want to go into the profession?
"I love being able to impact young people's lives. I see the college years as the most transformative. Whether that be through picking a major/future career, moving away from home, making new friends, living with someone, managing your time, looking for a job when nearing graduation, etc. What an amazing opportunity! I developed so much as a person during my time at Fontbonne and had a wonderful student-athlete experience. Though I had a job lined up once I graduated I quickly realized that my passion was within college athletics and though every day presents new opportunities and challenges, I wouldn't change it for the world"
Historically athletic departments have been male dominated, especially in leadership roles; but that has been growing change. What has it been like to be a part of that movement that includes more women in leadership roles within athletics?
"I am just following in the footsteps of so many women much stronger than me that have blazed the trail so that I can have the opportunity that I have today. Whether it be Title IX and access for women to play sports or chipping away at the glass ceiling that exists for women in college athletics. I see these women as such amazing role models that as the Rosie the Riveter image says 'We Can Do It!' and I really believe that women are capable of so much but still aren't on the same playing field as men but that just makes us work harder. My hope is that I, as well as our female coaches and staff members, can show our female student-athletes that they too are capable of thriving in athletics or their chosen fields. I have also had the privilege to serve as a mentor for several young female athletics administrators and being able to not only give back to them but also learn from them has been so rewarding."
From student to administrator, you have seen various perspectives of Fontbonne University. How would you sum Fontbonne up?
"I used to give a lot of tours when I was a student-athlete and now I talk to recruits and their families pretty regularly; I always state that Fontbonne has always felt like home. The people at Fontbonne are what makes this such an amazing palce to go to school and/or work. You will see we have many alums on our staff and that is a testament to the love we have for the institution. The other thing I would say is that the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet is ingrained in the fabric of the Fontbonne experience. Sometimes you don't realize it until you look back on it but the sisters were and still are ahead of their time in social justice and serving the dear neighbor. Which is something I see not only in my experience as a student-athlete and now an employee but also in our current student-athletes and graduates. Fontbonne increases your desire to serve others, so you see many students go into service releated fields: such as speech pathology, education, social work, etc. I was a business major but I very much see myself as a servant leader in my role at athletic director. I am here to serve our students and help them to grow so they can go on and impact the lives of others."