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SEC 40/40: Blazing Trails

1595 days ago
Chevonne Mansfield | SEC Digital Network
Photo: SEC Digital Network

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The SEC Digital Network recently caught up with Marie Robbins, former gymnast and current Associate Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator at University of Alabama. A member of the Tide's first championship 'triple crown' team in 1988, Robbins continues to blaze trails after nearly 25 years at Alabama.

Talk about your career path and your student-athlete days at Alabama. Has your gymnastics training helped you as an athletic administrator?

"I was the first person on either side of my family to attend college, so college was a completely foreign experience for me at first. I didn't even know what a credit hour meant! Fortunately being part of the Alabama Gymnastics team meant I had 13 immediate friends/teammates to help me through those early days on campus. My four years as a student-athlete at the University of Alabama and as a member of the Alabama gymnastics team are among the most memorable years of my life. Without question, my experiences at the University helped me develop the skills, the knowledge and the confidence to begin a professional career in intercollegiate athletics. Sarah Patterson, my head coach and the head coach still today, still tells the story to recruits that during my official visit to campus, I barely said 10 words during the entire weekend and by the time I graduated, I was a team captain and on my way to law school. The experiences our coaches gave us were more than just training and competing in the gym, they included, public speaking, community service and relationship building, all things that help young people leave college, begin careers and be successful in life and in careers."

Could you talk about your position as Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator? How long have you been in that role?

"I have been in the position of Associate AD/SWA for the past 10 years, following six years as Associate AD for Compliance. It hardly seems possible that I've been at the University of Alabama in one capacity or another for nearly 25 years. As Associate AD/SWA and member of our athletic department's executive staff, I am a small part of a team of administrators, coaches and other staff members whose mission is to develop future leaders and champions among our student-athletes while embracing the rich tradition of the University of Alabama. I enjoy working every day on behalf of the young people on our teams to help them achieve their goals academically, athletically and socially, so that they too can leave the University of Alabama prepared for life's challenges and opportunities."

Alabama won four national championships this year and three of those came from women's sports (gymnastics, softball, women's golf). Could you talk about the legacy of women's sports at Alabama?

"This year's three national championships in women's sports is the culmination of a lot of hard work over many years by coaches Sarah Patterson, Mic Potter, and Patrick Murphy and their respective staffs. These three national championships, and the eight won overall by our women over the years, are also a byproduct of the foundation created by people like Ann Marie Rogers, who was the first women's athletic director at the Capstone in 1974, and the young ladies who were among the first student-athletes in these sports on our campus. Without these trailblazers, and the countless alumnae of these sports who built a championship tradition over the years, women's athletics at Alabama would not be what it is today - a place where all of our female student-athletes can compete for championships year-in-and-year-out. As our coaches like to say, tradition never graduates and today's champions are standing on the shoulders of pioneers like Olympic gold medalists Lillie Leatherwood and Pauline Davis and national champions Penney Hauschild and Vicky Stanley.

"The other element to the success of these teams that cannot go unnoticed and says volumes about the success of women in business in our society over the years is that both our gymnastics practice facility and our softball stadium are named for female benefactors. The generosity of Frances Smith and her family and Ann Rhoads and her late husband John helped us build quality facilities for our female student-athletes. What was unheard of once upon a time, today college campuses across the county have athletics and other facilities named for women...showing today's young women that success and generosity will help future generations of young women achieve their dreams."

Do you have any advice for current student-athletes that may be interested in a career in college athletics?

"Just like my years as a student-athlete gave me the foundation to begin my career in intercollegiate athletics, my years working at the SEC office gave me the foundation for the two positions I've served in at Alabama. It doesn't get any better in the field of intercollegiate athletics to have mentors such as Roy Kramer, Pat Wall and John Gerdy, not to mention the many mentors on the campuses of the 12 SEC institutions that I met and worked with during those three years. Even before that, I stayed involved in the Alabama athletics department while attending law school, working in the Center for Athletic Student Services. My advice to student-athletes interested in a career in intercollegiate athletics would be to move outside of your own sport, your own comfort zone and try and get a big picture view of your athletics department. Try and understand what goes into making each sport work, from practices to events and everything in between. There is so much that goes into making an athletics department run beyond what you see every day. Expand your vision and the scope of your interest and you may find a career beyond your days as an athlete. Get involved in your Student Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteer your time in various areas of the athletics department at your university, and lend a helping hand at events. In doing all this, identify individuals who you believe would be a good mentor for you, someone you want to watch, emulate and solicit advice from. And finally, be willing to take an entry-level position at entry-level pay and work a lot of hours, because intercollegiate athletics is not a 9-5, Monday through Friday job ... it's a seven-day a week career."

Alabama's first national title in gymnastics came in 1988 and you were a member of that team. That year, the Tide also won its first SEC Championship as well as the NCAA Regional title, giving UA its first championship `triple crown'. Could you talk about the dominance of Alabama gymnastics over the years?

"I can remember all three of those championships we won in 1988 as if they happened yesterday. I remember winning the program's first SEC Championship at home in Coleman Coliseum, winning the regional championship at LSU and then waiting in the hotel lobby later that night to find out what seed we would be at the national championships. We waited to hear by phone, because there certainly wasn't any internet back then like there is now to track the scores at other regional sites. And, of course, I remember the unbelievable joy we felt winning the University's first national championship in a sport other than football. After so many years of coming so close to winning the ultimate prize, the 1988 national championship, more than anything else, validated Sarah and David Patterson's coaching philosophy and the core principles of the program they built virtually from scratch. It validated that national championships can be won the right way - with students, not just athletes, with integrity and with the main focus being to develop well-round young people for life after college. These principles are passed on from one class to the next, continuing to strengthen the program's foundation and maintaining a tradition of excellence and a championship legacy that only a handful of college programs, across all sports, can lay claim to. Sarah and David Patterson, now entering their 35th year at the Capstone, are among only a handful of collegiate coaches in any sport who can say that they have won national championships in four different decades. That level of sustained excellence is built, first and foremost, on the fact that Alabama gymnastics is a family and that each new class joins a tradition that goes far beyond the four years they'll spend competing at Alabama and stretches into a sisterhood that will last a lifetime."