When former Director of Intramural and Club Sports Deb Simpson retired on Monday, Sept. 1, she knew her position had yet to be filled and that a professional void would persist in the program. What she didn’t realize was just how quickly the program would collapse into chaos.
“When I read the article (a report by The Signal on the problems within Intramural and Club Sports without an acting director), I was really upset,” Simpson said. “I obviously love the College, love the students, and love the program th
at I built for 27 years … but when I was getting calls from club presidents and team members about the problems they were having, I could only say, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’”
Simpson’s retirement was far from the unexpected absence that many seemed to believe. Despite planning two years in advance of her actual departure in September and notifying the College in June of 2014, Simpson’s position went long unoccupied, going nearly a month without a director of Intramurals and Club Sports and wreaking havoc on the day-to-day games, schedules, organization and advertising of student sports groups.
In spite of disorganization on the ground, however, the College was “not aware of any concerns or turmoil surrounding the retirement and subsequent hire” of Simpson’s position,” according to Gregory Pogue, vice president of Human Resources.
Simpson, an alumna of the College in her undergrad and graduate years, served nearly three decades at the College, working to construct a streamlined intramurals program. With intensifying back problems becoming a burden several years ago, Simpson saw her retirement on the horizon. But what could’ve been a simple farewell took over two years.
For her initial preparations, Simpson began training Ed Dean, part time assistant coordinator, for her position. Dean was an “enthusiastic” contributor to the program who was well-loved by students and faculty alike, according to Simpson. In the fall of 2013, however, the College denied Dean’s rehiring. Due to the arrival of new football coach Wayne Dickens, the College gave Simpson former football coach Eric Hamilton to train instead, a hard-working assistant who nonetheless had “no experience” in club sports, Simpson said. Hamilton left for good a few months later in January, and Simpson requested to rehire Dean once again. But the College, yet again, had another agenda.
Dean was denied a second time in February. Instead, the College afforded Simpson twice-a-week help in Kevin Tylus, assistant athletic facilities coordinator. Simpson agreed to once again teach a new assistant, but she remained cognizant of the fact that her position, soon to be empty, needed a proper replacement with sufficient time to train.
“It definitely hurt the Intramural Sports Program losing Ed Dean,” Simpson said. “I was hoping someone would step in like an Ed Dean — someone young and energetic to take over the program and make it better and better for the future. But they obviously weren’t going to let Ed come back. My back issues weren’t getting any better, and now I’ve stayed two years longer than I should have. So I said, ‘I think it’s time for me to go.’”
Simpson gave her official notice to the College in June: she was leaving on July 1. But after 26 years and 10 months at the College, she decided to complete the last leg of her time here and stay the extra two months, rounding out a full 27 years of service.
During her remaining time, Simpson pressed the College repeatedly as to when her position would be posted and a new director vetted. But the College seemed to balk.
“They still knew in June I was leaving, and I asked at least once a week when the position would be posted and kept being told, ‘we’re not sure yet, we’re not sure yet,’” Simpson said. “But I told them, ‘I really think you need to get someone in here in August so I can help them before I go.’”
The result was yet again no word. She “wasn’t told anything” and “wasn’t told they’d be posting the position,” according to Simpson. Whoever would ultimately take her place as director would require extensive training in the Intramurals and Club Sports Program that couldn’t be provided at the drop of a hat.
“Our Intramural sports programs are run very differently than from other colleges,” Simpson said. “Other colleges have separate budgets among their sports clubs. We use the state budget along with the Student Finance Board’s student activities fees, and a lot of people don’t understand that.”
Fearing for the program’s stability in her wake, Simpson began instructing students and club supervisors, preparing them to pick up the slack where professional help would lack.
“Before I left, throughout the summertime, I basically made sure that all the students and supervisors for Intramurals were all rehired, all ready to go before the school year started,” she said. “I taught students everything about sports clubs and with intramurals, how to advertise, schedule the teams, train the officials, so that when Sept. 1 comes around and no one’s there to help, the students could handle it.”
Still, her efforts wouldn’t be enough to stanch the wounds left in the program. Simpson’s position was finally posted on Aug. 12, 2014, but upon her official departure date of Sept. 1, an organizational rift was opened that would not be filled anytime soon, and the ramifications were severe.
As reported by The Signal on Sept. 17, students involved in club sports were faced with turmoil beyond their control. Unable to properly schedule practices, reserve fields or even get the equipment they needed for games, students called Simpson for help, but at this point, the program was without an official head, and Simpson was at a loss.
“While Deb trained us very well to carry out our duties as student workers, I believe that everyone was under the assumption that someone would have been hired as a director before school started again,” said senior Gloria Han, supervisor of Intramurals and Club Sports. “There were times we struggled with balancing the demands of our academic schedules as students with the demands of managing responsibilities typically handled by the director. (And) as students, we did not have the authority to make certain decisions regarding club and intramural sports.”
The Athletics Department admitted to being equally challenged by the lack of an intramurals and club sports director, according to The Signal’s previous report.
“The timing of (Simpson’s) retirement posed challenges for us, and we are trying to work through them as best we can,” said Sharon Beverly, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and executive director of Athletics and Recreation.
But it appears these challenges weren’t triggered on behalf of Simpson’s long-lingering retirement. Rather, the vague, administrative delay to post her position without warning provided little time or effort to prepare for the month-long lack of a director.
“Dr. Beverly is really good for athletics, and she has a great athletic background, but I’m not sure how much of a background in recreation she has,” Simpson said. “So I think the department came in thinking ‘Oh, everything’s okay with recreation and sports clubs, so everything will continue to be okay.’”
The College has maintained that nothing unusual occurred during the review process and subsequent posting of Simpson’s position. Pogue expanded upon Simpson’s case in particular.
“This search (for a new Intramurals and Club Sports director) was completed well under a typical time-frame,” Pogue said. “We received notification of retirement during the second week of June, effective the first day of September. It is my understanding that Student Affairs and Athletics immediately began their strategic discussions and planning to determine a holistic review of NCAA Sports and Recreation on our campus, that also included the Campus Town Project.”
David Muha, vice president of Communications, Marketing and Brand Management, additionally said the review process takes specific steps to assess relevant “needs and budget.”
“This can take time but is ultimately important in ensuring that we continue to meet students’ needs and deliver the highest quality service,” Muha said. “We are committed to recreation and have made great strides in improving the student experience.”
But most committed to the Intramurals and Club Sports program has been and still is Simpson, so much so that she offered to continue assisting the program throughout its directorial lapse. She lives “right around the corner” and has returned to campus many times to support the College. In response, however, Simpson said the College repeatedly told her, “enjoy your retirement.”
With fresh director Rob Simels finally in place, Intramurals and Club Sports has begun to mend the fissures made during the interim. Simpson was confident that Simels would “take the program over and do very well with it,” and since then, Han believes he’s been “a tremendous help.” But only when forgoing a program director — and carrying on without Deb Simpson — did the Athletics Department realize just how much they’d miss the organizational hand of an acting director.