September 26, 2018, 10:10 a.m.
Mary Beth Spirk hustled in and out of Denny Hall and Dana Hall weekday afternoons decades ago on Dickinson College’s campus. She entered the buildings alone and re-appeared minutes later with company.
“I had to run to somebody’s class to find a ninth person,” Spirk recalled. “I’d ask them, ‘Can you play right field?’”
Spirk organized practices and tracked down players for games for Dickinson’s club softball team, one that had English and math professors as faculty advisers but no coach.
That was the case for Spirk’s first three years at Dickinson before progress followed.
“Finally being recognized as a collegiate sport my senior year was the greatest feeling for me,” she said of the Dickinson softball program. “That was the first time I thought about coaching.”
Spirk considered becoming Moravian College’s athletic director last year — three decades into her basketball coaching career.
The Notre Dame-Green Pond graduate owned more than 550 career victories and was a senior women’s administrator at the time. She was on the back side of her career in athletics. She could have cruised toward retirement, spent her summer days on golf courses instead of in her office or traveling to conferences.
Those who know Spirk understand that coasting is not in her DNA.
Spirk also realized that she spent much of her life running toward a challenge rather than running away from one. The Lower Saucon Township resident also felt responsibility and loyalty to Moravian and the people she worked with, taught and coached.
“First, I wanted to see the athletic department continue to be successful,” Spirk said. “It was in kind of a rough patch when the last AD left. It wasn’t in a good state.
“I’ve been here, knew everybody here. Even when I wasn’t the AD, people still came to me with problems. I knew that was part of my strengths, to help younger coaches and help bring us together a little more.
“The other thing for me was being a woman. In sports, in [athletic] administration, there are not a whole lot of women doing it. It’s a tough field to be in. You’re around male-dominated coaches and teams a lot. I wanted to be that role model. … I should take this responsibility on instead of backing away from it.”
Spirk has been Moravian’s athletic director since June 5, 2017. Her approach is much the same she used in coaching.
Her true passion for basketball is on display during practices, when she can help players prepare for games and provide life lessons.
As athletic director, Spirk felt compelled to lead the head coaches of Moravian’s 20 athletic programs much like she coached her players.
“I want coaches to come in, work hard, be happy,” she said. “It’s the same thing for players. I want them to run into the gym, not drag themselves in and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got practice.’
“We had a little bit of that going on in our department. It’s definitely changed. There’s a lot more communication. Before meetings, I assigned different coaches to bring in breakfast so everybody was in a good mood. Prior to that, people didn’t show for meetings or not say anything. Now, we’re more interactive.”
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