Navigating the stereotypical world of college athletic director is not without its obstacles for St. Joseph’s College’s Shantey Hill.
When Hill was named director of athletics at the Patchogue-based Division III school in 2013, she became what is believed to be the first female African-American in that position at a Long Island college.
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“Being a minority woman in the realm of athletics is not always easy, but at the end of the day, it’s always been worth it for me,” said the 40-year-old Hill, who grew up in Freeport and played basketball at what then was called C.W. Post. “I’m a proponent of seeing the glass half-full as opposed to seeing it half-empty, and any work toward changing the culture is work in itself.’’
Of the 1,139 NCAA member institutions, only 21 female athletic directors identified themselves as “black/African-American,” according to an NCAA spokesman, citing a 2014-15 survey.
Being a person who has broken the mold can lead to interesting encounters, said Hill, who also oversees athletic department at St. Joseph’s Brooklyn campus. Sometimes, she said, people in meetings will mistake her Caucasian assistants for the person in charge.
“They would shake their hand [first],’’ she said. “Once they found out I’m the boss, it was almost like they had egg on their face. There have been many circumstances where that has happened. I don’t think at this point that I have to reconcile that. I get a little chuckle out of it now. Shame on them not recognizing and shame on them for the way that they are thinking.”
Hill said she yearned for a job in athletic administration but at first couldn’t envision the AD’s seat. “You don’t see that many women — you don’t see that many minority women — sitting in this chair,’’ she said Wednesday, “so there is no one for young women who may want to go to into the field of athletics to emulate.’’
Hill’s credentials for the job were cultivated at Post, where she was a 5-11 forward on the Pioneers basketball team in the late 1990s. Athletic director Bryan Collins said Hill was a “Pioneer before she became a pioneer in her field.” Hill became the head athletic trainer and Collins later elevated her to senior women’s administrator.
“All the skills she possessed,’’ Collins said. “Her organizational skills, the ability to manage, to not only organize our staff and be able to accommodate our 400-plus student-athletes but also the ability to deal with our head coaches on a daily basis.’’
Collins said Hill’s qualifications were the only consideration.
“My thinking was, ‘She’s great, we need her.’ I think it’s great diversity to our department to put an African-American in an administrative standpoint, which was a great role model for student-athletes and the university as a whole. But it wasn’t born of that.’’
When former athletic director Don Lizak was ready to retire at St. Joseph’s, Hill applied for the job. “I knew it would be hard to do because clearly at this position it’s dominated by males and it usually is dominated by Caucasian males,’’ Hill said. “So leveling the playing field is always going to be difficult to do.
“The numbers prove that,” she said. “However, I tried not to let that stop me from doing the very best that I can do. I think I’ve already kind of defied the odds by being in this position, so it’s no longer about me, but my goal in being here is to be a leader to my student-athletes and my staff and really trying to provide them with a real-life figure in hopes that they can see themselves in my chair one day.’’
Sister Elizabeth Hill, the former president at St. Joseph’s — who is not related to the athletic director — approved Hill’s hiring after a recommendation from the search committee. “I don’t think that we thought at all in terms of color,’’ Hill said. “She needs to have the experience and credentials to provide the leadership for a growing athletic program. It certainly was not a conscious decision. I was frankly as pleased that it was a woman. We got a beautiful, tall African-American woman to be the AD. If we had gone out to look for one, we wouldn’t have been able to find her.’’
The job has not been without its problems. “It’s difficult at times, it has some challenges,’’ Shantey Hill said. “Not everyone wants you to be here, and they make that inherently known. Lucky for me, I’ve stayed true to my faith. I’ve had a lot of supporters both professional and personal who believe in me and believe in my ability to lead. You get scrutinized more so than your counterparts. There’s more of a doubt that you could get it done.”
Queens College athletic director China Jude, a black woman who has been in the job for five years, knows Hill from her years at Post.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is a dynamic, smart, brilliant woman,’ and I knew that she was going to be an athletic director one day,’’ Jude said. “Any time anyone is walking into an environment where the culture has already been set and someone from the outside walks in and it is a totally different look to what that environment has been accustomed to, naturally there’s going to be some uneasiness. What we need to do is make sure as women of color is to stay very persistent, and if we’re passionate in this industry, we are going to eventually break some doors down to get in.’’
St. Joseph’s belongs to the Skyline Conference, where Linda Bruno is the commissioner. She longs for the day when the AD job does not contain some type of ethnic asterisk. “The point where we could just say, ‘Welcome, here’s our new AD’ and there are no surprises,’’ she said. “It would be nice to say it’s no big deal. It is a big deal, and I don’t know why.’’