We work in a male-dominated industry and often find it hard to manage a work-life balance outside of the office. Although this post is focused on females that work in athletic communications (sorry, that’s my area of expertise!), it really crosses all platforms of working in the sports world.
After sitting through two CoSIDA Convention panels that focused on the work/life balance with having a family and lacked a single female panelist, one thing was clear to me: we need a voice.
I began doing my research and after a few good friends sent me suggestions, I contacted one woman in all three NCAA divisions and one from an NAIA institution.
Sue Cornelius Edson is the Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director/Chief Communications Officer at Syracuse University. She is a mother of two, Thomas and Tracey, and after losing her husband suddenly a few years ago has overcome obstacles of raising two teenagers while working in athletics.
Ann Bready King is the Sports Information Director at Sage College in New York’s capital city area. She’s spent over 30 years in the communications profession within Division III institutions. Ann’s husband, Tracy, is the commissioner of the Liberty League and together they have an 11-year-old son, Robert.
Cindy Potter has spent the last decade and then some at her alma mater, Columbia College. A small NAIA school in Missouri. Cindy is the Associate Director of Athletics for Media Relations and Compliance, and with two toddlers at home, she has her hands full!
Lastly is Phylicia Short at Queens University in Charlotte, not too far from where I currently am now. Phylicia had her first child, a little girl, last year and as the head SID at a Division II school faced many challenges the others have faced
I spent nearly an hour on the phone with each of these ladies. Some a little more (I’m looking at you, Ann!) Although each has a different story and path to where they are now, I wanted to point out some similarities. First, each of the four have worked for their alma mater upon finishing their undergraduate degree, and three of the four still do.
Sue began in the business working for the Delaware County Daily Times before she met the late Mary Jo Haverback at the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM). Haverback suggested she reach out to the communications staff at Villanova for an informational interview and to make connections. Haverback’s suggestion proved beneficial and before Sue knew it in September 1990 Edson was hired at Syracuse as an Assistant SID.
Phylicia was a former women’s basketball player at Queens, while Cindy played softball for Columbia College after transferring from Three Rivers Community College.
Ann worked at Drew where she graduated in 1986 for five years, but she has since moved on and is now at Sage College.
Sue and Phylicia both met their husbands while in college. Sue met her late husband while both were resident advisors at SU and spent one year apart while Rob pursued his master’s degree at West Virginia University. Phylicia met her husband, Bobby, who was a basketball player at another school in Queens’ conference through a mutual friend.
As Cindy put it, “If you don’t have anything to come home to, you tend to throw everything into work.” How many of us can relate?
“Back in 2008 I made a decision to either leave Colombia College and move home to Winnipeg closer to family or buy a house and get a dog,” added Potter. “So I bought a house and got a dog and suddenly had more of a family life outside of work.”
When Potter moved into her newly built house, her neighbors set her up on a date. “We went bowling and I knew that night that this was the man I was going to marry.”
Like I mentioned before, all four women have similar backgrounds, but Ann’s story of how she met her husband is my favorite. Believe it or not, she and Tracy met at ECACsida and then planned to meet up again at the CoSIDA Convention in Atlanta a few weeks later. Anyone who knows me knows that I often joke about this happening to me. Well, Ann is a living success story of a CoSIDA romance!
“When I first met him he was at the Patriot League, and then Holy Cross,” said Ann. “We made plans to see each other whether it was for dinner or a short weekend. In 1995 he moved to New Jersey.”
When Tracy first made the jump from SID to conference commissioner, there was no league office, so he was able to stay at home and work from there while taking care of their one-year-old son.
Which leads me into the next part.
The most important thing each woman told me was having the support and backing of their department’s administration when they wanted to start a family.
“If you have a support system in place beforehand, then go for it,” said Phylicia. “Nobody raises a child completely on their own anyway.”
Sue piggybacked off the strong support system as well. “There is no blueprint for having a family and doing what we do,” she said. “I was fortunate to have Rob because he worked in athletics, too, and understood what I was thinking.”
“Our administration was so supportive of us starting a family,” said Sue. Who’s husband was a long time employee at Syracuse working in multiple facets of the department during his tenure with the Orange.
When their son Thomas went to Kindergarten, Sue changed her hours to 6:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. allowing for her to pick him up from school. Rob would drop him off in the morning and then be able to trade off with Sue if she had to return to campus at night for a game.
She said that until they asked their bosses to switch their hours, they would have had to send Thomas to an after school program in which he would have spent more time on a bus getting there than at the actual program. “How many five-year-olds do you know that can sit on a bus for 45 minutes after a full day of school?” she joked.
Cindy’s husband works for FedEx Freight and works “12 p.m. to question mark,” as she explained. “We both have crappy hours, but we made it work.
“If you love it, you will make time for it,” Cindy added. “Having kids was never a burden on the lives we had, our kids just became a part of it.”
Speaking of becoming part of it, Cindy returned to work part-time just NINE days after having her second child and six weeks after her first. After getting to know her a bit, I think that six weeks would have been faster but she had eye surgery during that time which played a big role in delaying her return.
Cindy’s daughter CJ running the bases after a softball game at Columbia College.
The Right Time
Well, everyone agrees that there is never a “right time” to start a family. Cindy’s husband is older than her and they didn’t wait long to have kids.
“I learned quickly that I could never be a stay-at-home mom,” said Cindy. “I suffer from FOMO, you know, fear of missing out?“ When I asked Cindy about the timing of her due dates she said, “CJ was born in October and that was horrible. Chase was born 17 months later in March which was also horrible.” (Disclaimer: She meant being in your third trimester during crossover is horrible, not having kids that far apart).
Phylicia got pregnant with her daughter Dylan during a Division II SID’s busiest time of the year. “I got pregnant in February during our spring crossover season so my first trimester was very trying,” she explained.
Ann was constantly working throughout her pregnancy, just as the others did. “During my third trimester, we were hosting the DIII Women’s Lacrosse National Championship and someone needed something from the TV truck. I ran to get it.”
“I was pregnant and it was uncomfortable and I was sick every day even when I was in labor,” recalled Ann. After multiple tries with her husband and losing two babies during earlier pregnancies, it all worked out for Ann who’s son arrived in July 2005.
Ann being assisted by her son Robert on the sidelines.
I think like Cindy, Ann also suffers from a little FOMO. She told me she was in the hospital in labor and answered a phone call from the local paper wanting to talk about a track All-American. Her husband had to tell the guy it wasn’t a good time! Ha!
But as much FOMO as Ann may have, she put it all into perspective for me.
“In life, we think ‘I can’t miss this game or I can’t not be there for that’ but the game will go on without you,” said Ann. “The box scores might be wrong but you can fix it. For years I missed family events and then one year I made the decision to skip a football game for a family event. You have to learn to let it go.”
Sue’s son, Thomas, has spent the last three summers as an intern in the department at Syracuse. When I asked her if she thinks he will follow in his parents footsteps, you could hear the excitement in her voice. “I am really proud of him for wanting to pursue a profession in sports and study it in college,” she said. “I sometimes worry that he wants to stay in athletics because it’s the only thing he knows so I encourage him to explore other options but I know this is his top interest and I am so proud.”
Because of work, Sue has been able to share incredible experiences with her children like attending the Rose Bowl because her son is a big Oregon fan or the Women’s Final Four in which her daughter Tracey flew home with the team when she had to get back to work earlier and could only stay one night.
Thomas and Tracey Edson at the Rose Bowl, January 2015
Ann thinks her son will work in IT. “During winter break my computer crashed, he helped me back up all of my StatCrew files and saved it to another computer because our university’s IT department was closed,” she said. “He’s so smart and I just kept thinking, ‘Wow he’s 10 and backing up StatCrew!’ ha-ha.”
Cindy and Phylicia’s kids are much younger so they haven’t begun to discuss career paths yet.
I asked each woman for a final thought or word of advice, in which could not be relative to our previous hour-long phone call. This is what they had to say.
“Every time you get overwhelmed with work can you put yourself in someone shoes and still be able to do what you do?” said Cindy. “I went into college thinking I wanted to be a teacher. Well, it’s 14 years later and I can’t see myself doing anything else, especially not teaching in a classroom.”
Ann’s advice was about establishing oneself and developing a professional network. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Ask a question and send them an e-mail.” She touched on sitting with total strangers during lunch at convention and reaching out to people no matter where they work.
One of my favorite things she said to me was “I don’t consider a work trip successful if you cant find five people at the end of the week that you can pick up the phone and ask them something, whether it be personal or professional.” (YES TO ALL OF THIS ANN!)
Phylicia said to me “When we started planning a family with my husband I kept thinking to myself ‘when am I going to have time to do this’, you can’t think like that. You just need to jump in and do it.” The toughest part of balancing her job and family is those long days when she gets home after Dylan is already sleeping. “It’s all worth it, it’s not easy but I love my daughter.”
Lastly was Sue’s email she sent me later at night long after we hung up the phone. She thanked me for being taking a leadership role. I laughed at this because I’m 25 years old and most days have not a clue what I’m doing.
Anyway she said she was thinking further about the final topic we discussed, which was how she managed to balance her family and work after the sudden death of her husband. It all circled back to having an incredible support system both personally and professionally. As someone who was raised by a single mom from a young age when my dad passed away from cancer, I felt for Sue so much.
Here’s what she said…
“The love and support from every area of our lives – family, friends, our community and colleagues – has helped me, Thomas and Tracey to get through the past two and a half years. The incredible amount of love and support immediately after Rob passed away was and still is amazing. The support came from every direction – from our families, friends, the Syracuse community, former student assistants and athletics department staff traveling to Syracuse to be with us in the days and weeks following, friends and colleagues in the profession coming from all over the country to pay their respects and to offer their support, administrators, leaders and staffs of both Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College, the many student-athletes (past and present from both Syracuse and OCC), teachers and staff in the Jamesville-Dewitt School District, and members of the media. We sincerely appreciate each and every person and every gesture of support.”
With all of that being said, I leave you all with my final thoughts.
THANK YOU to Sue, Ann, Cindy and Phylicia for taking time out of their day to speak to me about some personal information for this blog. I hope to have told your stories the best I could without leaving out too much. Each of you are inspiring and hard working women in this field who manage motherhood at the same time.
When I set out to write this post I had no idea where it would take me. Well, a few new female mentors later, I find myself thinking about a future as a mom and for those of you that know me personally know that a month ago you couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to say that, let alone think it!
Lastly, thank you to Chris Yandle for stepping up and being my editor for this post. It was a lot to read and I am thankful for your friendship and mentorship.