Thérèse Quigley, BA’75, BEd’77, has been fueled by a “belief in the power of sport” for her entire career as an athlete, coach and administrator.
Western’s Director of Sports and Recreation Services has earned a national reputation as an innovator in interuniversity sport, recreation programming, fundraising, facility development and student leadership. A highly decorated student-athlete and an all-Canadian volleyball player with the Mustangs, Quigley was the winner of the FWP Jones Trophy in 1975 as Western’s top female athlete. Following an impressive career as a coach and administrator at McMaster University, Quigley returned to Western in 2009.
Before retiring at the end of the month, she sat down with Western News reporter Paul Mayne to discuss her career, the power of sport to build individuals and communities, as well as university sports in Canada finally going on the offensive.
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You’ve been an athletic director for almost a quarter century. Was this something you saw yourself doing from the get-go?
At one point, when I was out in Alberta (earning my masters degree), my plan was to come back to Western. But an opportunity came up at McMaster. So, in 1984, I went to Mac and stayed there until I came here.
I didn’t get into the administrative side until 1990, when I took over as athletic director after coaching. I loved both, but felt I could make more of an impact in administration working on behalf of coaches, knowing so much about what they needed and what support and resources they required. I felt I could do more for student-athletes and coaches in the advancement of athletics at universities in that position.
I was quite naive in those days. I thought I could re-organize and re-engineer the department and maybe split coaching and athletic director. But those are two very full-time jobs. But when the opportunity came to take on the new role, I felt I could do more with it and have a broader impact.
Where there ever times you thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’
There isn’t an athletic director at a university in Canada who hasn’t faced challenges. The persistence I had comes from a belief in what the power of sport within a university environment can do. It was a real belief in what I was doing. I’ve felt it was a privilege to come to work and feel like you’re making a difference – even when it’s tough going at times.
Someone mentioned that upon my retirement I can now stop and smell the roses. I immediately responded, without thinking, that I’ve been in a rose garden all my life.
It’s hasn’t been easy; I’ve had to do a lot of weeding roses. But it’s been rewarding.
I have been inspired by so many people. These roles were opportunities for me to give back to a sport that had given me so much. It’s been my university life and even back to when I was a little girl competing in PUC Track & Field championships at Labatt Park.
What was it that brought you home from McMaster after all those years?
It was a very difficult decision – no doubt about it. Mac had been my home for just under 25 years. The staff was amazing. We had just finished a major 10-year project of rebuilding all the facilities and program development. But a strong recruiting effort by (former Health Sciences Dean) Jim Weese, at the end of the day, gave me the sense that coming back to Western, coming back to my roots, would give me the chance to give back to the community that gave me so much.
And it was a good decision?
Our coaches are really exceptional; they are outstanding people first and foremost. They really welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been inspired as much by them as I, hopefully, was able to return to them. They were, without a doubt, the first point of contact that made me feel this move was right.
I was at the point in my career when it wasn’t about building my career – I wanted to give back.
I also felt welcome with the alumni. Working with our athletic alumni was a real homecoming, truly. The goal was to rekindle those relationships. We’ve moved the needle on that. Those are the kinds of things that don’t show up on a ledger. But when you talk about the social equity and the importance of relationship and engagement we’ve struck, we’re all in this together.
My relationship with the students is also something I take great pride in. My first meeting at Western, in July 2009, was with the University Students’ Council. They were so keen; it was the beginning of a great relationship that sees us with new all-weather fields, among other things.
Sport is about building community – whether that’s with students, alumni, coaches or the community at large. It’s what I’ve done all my life. My job is to move the yardsticks for the coaches. My job is to build the capacity so they can do what they do best. The building of that capacity is the most critical thing an athletic director does on behalf of the coaches and student athletes.
The Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) recently went through a rebranding, with a name change to USports. What do you think of this change?
It’s the best thing that has happened to university sport in a very long time.
People ask me if it’s just a name change – it’s not. It’s a whole new and different way in approaching university sport.
If you do a poll in any five cities in this country, they don’t know what CIS is. You show them the logo and they wonder if it’s an Internet company or a private investigation company. But with USports you know what it is. The collegiate block U – that says university sports.
The real difference is looking at university sport not only as an administrative arm, but really moving it into an event-driven property. We are going to see, under the new leadership, much more of a fan following. We had it in the 1970s, but there wasn’t a lot we were competing against back then. Today, it’s a very competitive market competing for the interest and discretionary dollars of the public.
It will cost money to do so, but I’m confident we are going to see that return as soon as three to five years. Had we not made the change, and stayed the way we did, it would be a steady decline.
This is kind of a renaissance period for us. Changing a culture within an organization as small as a single university is huge. Now, take the whole country. It’s exciting, but it takes the internal culture to change and really embrace the changes needed. For the most part, we have that. We’ve been playing a lot of defense, I think it’s time to go on offence.
Now that you’re retired, will it be the last we see of you on campus?
University sports is part of me; it’s in my DNA and will always be there. As much as I love the job, it’s hard work. I love it and have no regrets in any decision I’ve made or in what I’ve done over my career. But it’s time for me to look at a schedule that is not as all consuming.
I had the privilege of being part of thousands of people’s lives.
So you never feel you’re really leaving.
I’m a big fan of John Wooden (famed UCLA basketball coach). He was interviewed after the last game of the season one year and a reporter asked, ‘Well, coach, did you have a good year?’ And he said, ‘I’ll tell you in 25 years.’ In other words, it’s not about what we just did, but rather what we’ve instilled in these young people. You are working with students at a point of transition in their lives where your influence can be very positive.
That’s quite the privilege to have had.