Athletic director a take-charge person; Community college fills post for first time, eyes enrollment boost


When Diane E. Schumacher was a junior in high school in the 1960s, the only sport available for girls was gymnastics. She didn't get involved in that, she says, because no leotards were long enough for her tall frame.

So the West Springfield, Mass., native started teams of her own -- basketball, softball, tennis -- despite naysayers at the school who insisted that girls just wouldn't be interested in that kind of thing. Schumacher, who is 6 feet 2, proved them wrong.

Schumacher started this month as the first athletic director at Howard Community College, and she plans to do what has always come naturally: Take charge of a program and make it better.

The Columbia school created a full-time athletic director position this year as part of a collegewide campaign to increase enrollment and retention of students -- no small goal in an increasingly competitive college market in which schools are fighting for tuition dollars.

Before this school year, the director of student life oversaw athletics as part of his job.

Schumacher, 45, has ambitious goals for the athletic program. By spring, she hopes to launch men's and women's lacrosse teams. College officials believe many potential students decline to attend the school because it does not have lacrosse.

"We lost a lot of kids because we don't have that program," she said. "That's why I think we need to start that right away. And we'll worry about cost later. We'll find the money."

Schumacher also wants to start a women's softball team, order practice uniforms for all the teams to improve school loyalty, improve athletes' retention rates, visit all high schools in the area to let them know about the new-and-improved sports program, oversee gymnasium renovations and revamp the school's tired "iron horse" logo of a locomotive.

Howard Community College is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association in the region encompassing Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. Sports programs include men's and women's soccer, men's and women's basketball, cross country, indoor and outdoor track, women's volleyball and co-ed tennis. The program has regularly produced All-American and All-Region players.

George Killian, executive director of the National Junior College Athletic Association, said female athletic directors are not as rare as they once were.

"I've been here since the days when we had zero women," he said, adding that the ratio is not yet 50-50 but women have "made great progress."

Schumacher comes from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., where she was athletic director and head coach of the women's basketball and softball teams.

Since starting those teams in high school, Schumacher has always had athletics in her life. She got a bachelor of science degree in health and physical education in 1975 from Springfield College in Massachusetts and played four years of basketball and softball. She was captain of both teams her senior year.

In 1976, she began playing professionally in the sports, traveling around the world and winning numerous awards and medals. During her long career, she was inducted into four halls of fame: the Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame, the International Softball Association Hall of Fame, the Springfield College Hall of Fame and the State of Connecticut Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame.

Schumacher has worked as an assistant basketball coach at Fordham University in New York and as a full-time women's basketball and softball coach at Princeton University in New Jersey. At Princeton, she said, sexism and discrimination were so prevalent that she considered leaving women's sports and coaching men's sports.

Instead, she decided to do what she could to improve athletic conditions for women.

"I decided then and there I wanted to go back to school to someday become an athletic director," she said.

She enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she received a master's degree in sports administration in 1984.

Schumacher is at the community college as part of a broader effort to reach out to students, said Kate Hetherington, new vice president of student services. She said more "traditional" students come to the college every year, and they are looking for a four-year college experience -- including, often, an athletic experience.

But unlike some other schools, Hetherington said, Howard will not recruit athletes and ignore them academically.

"You have to make sure not only that you get good athletes, but also that you retain them," Hetherington said. "And that takes a special effort because a lot of schools don't do that."

Pub Date: 9/15/99

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