By Braedan Shea
As the game clock inside Springfield College’s Blake Arena expired on March 27, it brought a conclusion to another successful New England Women’s Basketball Association (NEWBA) Senior All Star Game Classic.
A multitude of excited players and spectators alike made their way toward center court.
Amidst the sea of people and the colorful arrange of jerseys, the arena was buzzing. The energy was high and joyous, while everyone involved connected with each other – including the players, who, despite being opponents for the past four years, were enjoying the time with those familiar faces for what could be the last time.
It was beautiful – a powerful and poetic way to end a strong collegiate career.
And none of it would have been possible without the extraordinary leadership of one very influential person: Michelle Lee Scecina.
Scecina has seemingly always been a leader, first showcased when she was a student at Springfield in the mid-90s. As a member of the women’s basketball team, she cemented herself as one of the greatest players in the College’s history; being the only Springfield player ever to end her career amassing both 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She was named to the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) All-Region Team as a junior in 1995-96, and to the NEWBA Senior All-Star Team the following year.
After graduating in 1997, Scecina decided she wanted to take her leadership skills and apply them to something else – teaching Physical Education.
After a two-year stint as an elementary school P.E. teacher in the City of Springfield, she learned that it just wasn’t for her. She was looking for something more. So she decided to return to Springfield College as a graduate student where she could get into coaching, serving as a Graduate Assistant coach alongside women’s basketball head coach Naomi Graves.
During her time on the sidelines she helped the Pride win a pair of NEWMAC Championships, including a record-setting 2002 campaign where Springfield established the program’s most wins in a season with 25, and reached the NCAA Division III Championship Regional Semifinals.
Scecina graduated again in 2001 and went back into teaching – this time at Minnechaug High School – while also staying on as Graves’ assistant. Although enjoying teaching at the high school level more than elementary, she realized that what she really wanted was to become a women’s basketball head coach at the collegiate level. In 2004, she finally got the opportunity she was looking for.
“I was assistant coach for one more year after G.A., and then I had the opportunity to work at Mount Holyoke College with the coach that was there at the time, who I met at a camp,” said Scecina. “Two years later, she left, and I got to be the head coach there.”
Once becoming head coach at Mount Holyoke, Scecina found immediate success. In her first year at the helm, she led the team to a NEWMAC regular season title in 2004-05. Following that season, in 2005-06, she guided the Lions to a victory over perennial powerhouse Emmanuel College in the ECAC Div. III New England Championship, while also establishing a new program record for wins in a season with 23.
She topped that by being named NEWMAC Coach of the Year the very next season, after leading the Lyons to their first ever NEWMAC Championship. With their 51-46 triumph over WPI in the league title game, they also secured a spot in the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the first time in program history.
But the great success was not the only thing she got out of coaching. It helped her blossom into who she is today.
“It was a great learning experience for me, I grew up in a suburb of Boston and then came to Springfield, which is predominantly white, and just hadn’t had any type of diversity in my life at that point,” she said. “At Mount Holyoke I was able to experience a lot, learn a lot, hopefully educate a lot of folks on all aspects of life, whether it was mentoring my student-athletes on my team or working with other colleagues and different departments, I grew a lot during that time. I learned a lot from that experience at a liberal arts all-women college.”
It was also during this time that she, along with longtime friend Nicole Chaszar, became the co-presidents of the NEWBA organization.
“The NEWBA game happened my first few years,” she said. “I had sent a couple of my senior players to it, but then one year we just didn’t get any info about it. I asked one of my friends who coached at Western New England, ‘Have you seen anything about the NEWBA all star game? What about the seniors? I have one that I would like to nominate,’ and we found out that the person who was running it just didn’t have time anymore. They said, ‘We’re not going to have the game this year, but if you want to take it over, feel free.’ So I said ‘Well, I guess we are going to take it over.’”
The two are still running the organization 15 years later. They have made it better since taking over the reins, adding weekly awards such as Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week, so that players can get the recognition they deserve.
Scecina remained head coach of Mount Holyoke until the winter of 2018, when she finally passed the torch to Jackie Ward. Following that final season, Scecina came back to the place she knows best: Springfield College.
“(It’s) hard to put into words, but if you were going to put it into one thing, it’s the people. It’s the students, the colleagues, the alums, the faculty and staff – it’s the people that we interact with everyday,” she said.
Her return came in 2018 when she was appointed as the Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Enhancement, later assuming a new role of compliance in the Fall of 2020. Her main role is to make sure that student-athletes know the NCAA institutional policies and procedures and roles, as well as making sure that the teams are following all of them. She also deals with roster management and eligibility, just to name a few aspects of her job.
Scecina accredits her leadership due to her aspirations, as well as her past experiences, and wants to make sure that she can use her life experiences to help anybody who needs it.
“I like the idea of being able to help young people, whether it is in their field or sport, and being able to contribute to their experience. My leadership comes from learning so much from my mentors – people who were in positions to be able to help me (…) Even the prior Athletic Director here, Cathie Schweitzer – seeing a female Athletic Director and thinking I could do that. Being able to give back, too. I had such a great experience and I really care about our students and student-athletes,” Scecina said.
“People have this energy, and seeing that drives me to want to help them.”
Photo: Springfield College Archives