By Jac St. Jean
Out of all of the members of the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame, only five inductees are not graduates of Springfield College. This exclusive list includes Howard Davis, Richard B. Flynn, Tom Hay, and newly inducted member in the Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2020, Cathie Ann Schweitzer.
Long before her arrival on Alden Street, Schweitzer grew up in a densely populated area of Akron, Ohio with one younger and older brother, an older sister, and a ton of neighborhood kids.
“We always had somebody to play with, something to do,” Schweitzer explained. “We were always outside. My backyard was the baseball diamond. Somebody else had the basketball court. Somebody else had the football field. It was a very active neighborhood… we stayed outside all the time and played until my dad whistled for us to come home for dinner.”
Schweitzer’s active upbringing led her to fall in love with sports. She would go on to play a variety of sports throughout grade school including softball and basketball. After high school, Schweitzer attended the University of Akron and was a founding member of the women’s basketball program there.
“There were limited opportunities in the 60s,” Schweitzer described. “When I got to the University of Akron they really didn’t have women’s sports yet; this was in 1969, so I and a couple of other women went to the director of athletics and said ‘Hey can we start a women’s basketball program’ and he said ‘Sure, you find a coach, you get the back gym.””
Despite some difficulty at the start, Schweitzer and her teammates helped grow the program, and not too long after her departure from Ohio, the Akron Zips Women’s Basketball team would become an NCAA Division I program in 1974. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Schweitzer would continue her academic career at Bowling Green State University and obtain a master’s degree in physical education. Schweitzer would culminate her academics at the University of Iowa, earning a Ph.D. with a specialization in athletic administration.
After all of the education and coaching, Schweitzer decided it was time to move up. With her Ph.D. she would attend an AAHPERD (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance) convention in the spring of 1996. Schweitzer ran into her classmate and friend from Iowa, Linda Delano, at the convention, where Delano showed her a job description for an open assistant athletic director position at Springfield College.
After meeting with the provost at the time, Schweitzer would be invited out to Springfield College for an interview, where she would be picked up by a future close friend in women’s basketball Coach Naomi Graves.
“Coach Graves was picking me up at the airport,” Schweitzer said. “We were describing each other and I said ‘Well I’m the point guard’ and she goes ‘Well I’m the center’ being as tall as she is and as short as I am, and so we kind of hit it off as friends.”
Graves still remembers and recalls the story to this day, and sees Schweitzer as a mentor for herself, and a role model for everyone.
“In her career, [Schweitzer] has been a person that has laid the groundwork for many of us women behind her,” Graves stated. “I think she’s done a remarkable job of obviously building our facilities and building our programs up, but also in representing what other female coaches and administrators could be.”
Only four years after her arrival, Schweitzer would take over for Ed Bilik in 2000, and become Springfield College’s first-ever female director of athletics. In her 15-year tenure, Springfield College Athletics obtained 59 conference championships, 24 individual national championships, and eight-team national championships.
Schweitzer also received a handful of awards and accomplishments as an athletic director, including NACWAA Division III Administrator of Year, and served as President of the National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators. But Schweitzer does not take as much pride in these accomplishments as she does in her time spent at Springfield.
“It wasn’t like a job, it was like a labor of love,” Schweitzer described. “I never looked at my watch at work… and when I walked up that ramp to go to the office I always had a smile on my face. It was just a pride and joy being at Springfield College. The best thing is seeing the student-athletes come in as first-year students, young, and have a lot of room for development, and to see them walk across that stage at graduation is so fulfilling to see the growth and development of the individuals.”
Since stepping away from her position in 2015, Schweitzer now teaches at UMass Amherst in the sports management program. Although she has been at an array of colleges, she still calls Springfield her home and has left a huge impact on some of the coaches, like Graves, that are still here today.
“When I started, there weren’t a lot of female head coaches, and there weren’t a lot of full-time positions for women,” Graves added. “[Schweitzer] was an advocate of promoting females in many different roles, and I think her impact on athletics, especially at Springfield, will be her greatest legacy. For me, she’s a friend but she’s also been a great mentor and a person I reach out to for guidance. She’s just that kind of person.”
Schweitzer, like many others that have traveled through Springfield, is a one-of-a-kind individual. She has paved the way for women at a handful of colleges and universities in multiple realms of work such as sports and athletic administration and has nurtured the culture that Springfield College Athletics fosters today.
“I always say there are givers and takers in the world,” Graves mentioned. “Cathie is a giver, and she gave herself and did her best with everything she did here. Her greatest asset would be that she was always willing to support us at any time… she didn’t want to just trailblaze alone, she wanted to bring people with her, and she certainly brought me with her.”
Photo: Springfield College