Story by Dominic Johnson
Photo by Luke Nankivell
On May 30, 2006, Sandy Hatfield Clubb became the first woman in the state of Iowa to become an athletic director at the Division I level, and she has led the Drake Bulldogs ever since. But Hatfield Clubb, who grew up in Bethesda, Md., hadn’t always envisioned a career in athletic administration.
Hatfield Clubb’s mother passed her swimming background on to her daughter. Having swum in high school until the age of 16, Hatfield Clubb’s love of the sport resurfaced in college at the University of Texas–El Paso. There, she took the sport up again while fulfilling a physical education requirement and soon joined the school’s masters team.
After Hatfield Clubb earned her undergraduate degree in business administration from UTEP, she started working full-time at the pool on campus. While doing so, the graduate program in education offered her a position as a research and teaching assistant while paying for her graduate degree. She also started teaching classes in weight training, aerobics and, of course, swimming. It was during her time in El Paso that the idea of becoming an athletic director first surfaced for Hatfield Clubb.
“While I was in graduate school, I had a professor who started the first-ever athletic administration graduate program at the University of Ohio, and I took an athletics administration class from him,” Hatfield Clubb said. “I had never even thought about athletic administration before that, but he got me interested, planted a seed, if you will, that it could be a career. With my background in business administration, I thought that might be a good idea.”
After earning her graduate degree, Hatfield Clubb became an assistant aquatics coach for Washington and Lee University, a Division III school in Lexington, Va. After less than a year in Virginia, Hatfield Clubb traveled to Tempe, Ariz., where she had accepted a management intern position with Arizona State Athletics. The position was a two-year management training program where each intern spent time in every area of the department to gain exposure to every aspect of athletics administration.
In her second year, Hatfield Clubb chose to specialize in stadium management, as the Sun Devils hosted numerous national tournaments at that time, including the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball championships.
After completing her tenure as a management intern, Hatfield Clubb was hired on as an assistant to the athletic director in 1992. Four years later, she became assistant director of athletics for student and administrative services. In 1998, she then became associate director of athletics, and finally, in 2002, she was promoted to senior associate director of athletics.
In 2006, Drake University called.
Dave Blank, Hatfield Clubb’s predecessor, had announced that he was leaving his position as Drake’s director of athletics to become the director of athletics for Elon University in Elon, N.C. When Drake’s search consultant first called, Hatfield Clubb wasn’t sold.
“My husband is from Iowa, and so I went home and told him about it, and he said, ‘You call them back,’” Hatfield Clubb said. “He always wanted to raise the family here, and he’s always encouraged me to further my career and be an athletic director.”
After multiple rounds of interviews with coaches, faculty, students, trustees, administrators and Drake President David Maxwell, Hatfield Clubb was chosen for the position from a pool of more than 40 applicants.
For the past seven years, Hatfield Clubb has constantly met with student-athletes, coaches, fans and donors and made decisions for the university’s top coaching positions like men’s and women’s basketball. But Hatfield Clubb simply states her job is to make those around her better.
“My job is to pour into our student-athletes, coaches and administration to make them the best that they can be,” Hatfield Clubb said.
Hatfield Clubb has witnessed numerous Bulldog accomplishments, including the magical 2007-08 men’s basketball season and men’s soccer team’s trip to the NCAA Elite Eight.
“What’s fun about all that is you get to see our students’ dreams really come alive,” Hatfield Clubb said. “That’s why they come to Drake, to have the experience of earning a great degree, being competitive in the classroom and then winning championships.”
No one has more praise for Hatfield Clubb than those who work around her. Jolene Ostbloom has been Hatfield Clubb’s administrative assistant since she first came to Drake, and believes her desire to help each and every student-athlete has led to her success here in Des Moines.
“What impresses me is her genuine wanting student athletes to succeed, in the classroom, on the playing field,” Ostbloom said. “When a student-athlete falters, she really takes it to heart.”
Mike Cigelman, associate director of athletics, facilities director and director of recreational services, has been at Drake for 27 years, and Hatfield Clubb is the third director of athletics he has worked with.
“One of the greatest thing she’s done is create an environment where people feel valued,” Cigelman said. “Whether it is athletic staff, whether it is coaches or the student-athletes, we get to live in an atmosphere where we feel valued, and in the world of Division I athletics, that’s not always the case.”
Cigelman also said that the everyday life of the Bulldog student-athlete has improved drastically since Hatfield Clubb first arrived at Drake.
“When she came here, some of our
athletes had to buy their own shoes to compete in,” Cigelman said. “We had teams that were crammed into vans and had to take long trips, sometimes late at night, returning from competitions. And now the basic equipment that every
student-athlete needs, they have, Drake supplies that.
“I think one of the greatest compliments to Sandy is that we have student-athletes that are really good students, that are role models for others and that win.”