Coast Guard hosts first women's athletics leadership conference

Alfreeda Goff, senior associate commissioner of the Horizon League, speaks during the first United States Coast Guard Academy LeadHERship Program for women's athletics on Tuesday at CGA's Alumni Center in New London.
Alfreeda Goff, senior associate commissioner of the Horizon League, speaks during the first United States Coast Guard Academy LeadHERship Program for women's athletics on Tuesday at CGA's Alumni Center in New London. Tim Martin/ The Day Buy Photo

New London - When Tim Fitzpatrick, Coast Guard Academy's first-year athletic director, first decided to stage a leadership conference for women's athletics, he knew exactly who to call.

Alfreeda Goff, the senior associate commissioner and chief of staff with the Horizon League based in Indianapolis and a highly respected motivational speaker, was a colleague of Fitzpatrick's when the two worked at Virginia Commonwealth University beginning in the late 1980s.

Goff considers herself Fitzpatrick's second mother.

And her motto, as it relates to women helping advance women in the field of athletics, is "each one reach one."

"I learned it in Sunday school," Goff said Tuesday at Coast Guard's Alumni Center. "It means you should always be able to reach behind you and pull somebody forward … and if that person becomes just as good or better than you, then that's even better.

"That's what I want to be able to say, 'I helped the next generation or the next couple generations."

Goff wasn't saying no to Fitzpatrick's conference. And the women Goff then called weren't saying no to her either.

Coast Guard, therefore, hosted its first "LeadHERship" program for women's athletics Tuesday with Goff and Columbia University athletic director Dianne Murphy as keynote speakers and a panel discussion with athletic directors Sharon Beverly of Vassar College, Debbie Chin of the University of New Haven and Pat Meiser of the University of Hartford.

Staff members from Coast Guard attended the all-day session, as did representatives from Connecticut College and Mitchell College.

With Murphy, her rise to leadership was measured - she called herself "the best planner in America." The more positions Murphy held prior to being hired at Columbia, the more experience she gained for her ultimate goal of becoming an athletic director. Meiser, formerly the senior women's administrator at UConn, joked that one day instead of making a right turn from her house to UConn, she made a left to Hartford.

All the women, some of whom hadn't met beforehand, had much of the same advice, all of them speaking of the mentorship which Goff so endorses. Murphy recently hosted two of her professors from Florida State, now in their 80s and 90s, for a weekend in New York City.

"Got a problem? Just call me," Meiser said of her attitude toward networking.

The panelists talked of pulling themselves up from the beginning of the Title IX era in 1972, before mentors in women's athletics existed. Chin was hired to institute women's sports at New Haven and coached tennis, volleyball, basketball and softball - "get the ball over the net and in the boxes," she said of her knowledge of tennis at the time. Meiser, as women's basketball coach at Penn State, gave out the program's first scholarship in 1974.

Beverly said she learned anything was possible when her mother went back to school with four young children to raise. "She was very inspirational; she still is," Beverly said of where got her mentorship.

Likewise, Goff said, her parents also provided her with the confidence to achieve her dreams.

"I grew up way before Title IX. My father only had a third-grade education. I have great grand-parents who were slaves," Goff said. "And he taught me I could be whatever I wanted to be. I know I didn't get some jobs because I was a minority woman. My parents, these two people gave me my foundation."

Now these women, who celebrate the 40th anniversary this year of Title IX, serve as a foundation for other women with dreams. Whenever they're called upon.

"I love what I do. I've been blessed in my life with people," said Goff, who's been a high school and college track coach, a high school teacher, an athletic director in the collegiate ranks and was named the Black Coaches' Association's Administrator of the Year in 2005. "I can't put a value on that. It's like a MasterCard commercial … priceless."

Goff said the Horizon League's Butler University men's basketball team, which has been to back-to-back Final Fours despite the entire athletic department having a budget that is dwarfed by most major universities, is an example of what people can accomplish with a great leader.

"It's not about the frills," she said. "It's about the people."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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