The high school athletic trainer was tending to Stevie Baker-Watson’s right knee, which the high school freshman had injured in a volleyball game.
“That,” Baker-Watson recalls years later, “was the moment I thought, oh, I'd kind of like to do this sort of thing.”
She continued to play high school sports, but found that she particularly enjoyed sports-related activities outside of playing, such as scoring wrestling meets, running tournaments, working with Special Olympics, officiating games and working with the athletic trainers.
“I like to be involved and to be busy, and the sports space gave me enough variety that it kept me entertained,” says Baker-Watson, associate vice president for campus wellness and the Theodore Katula director of athletics and recreational sports.
She earned a degree in athletic training from Ohio University and received a master’s degree in exercise science and cardiac rehabilitation from Northeastern Illinois University.
After 10 years as a clinical trainer, she moved into an administration position as an assistant athletic director at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. She came to DePauw in 2012, the first woman to hold her position. Among her counterparts across the country, she’s in the minority.
“We have this idea that sports is still a man’s world. We look across at what’s happening in all the professional realms and see men. So women think that’s the only option.
“I think that it’s old-school thinking to question what a woman could possibly know about running an athletics department,” she says. She hasn’t heard such skepticism at DePauw, but she knows that women at other schools hear it all the time.
Baker-Watson’s response would be: “I’m not coaching. That’s why I hired the coaches – to be those experts. I’m the one who's going to help guide and shape in other areas: finances, personnel, communication.”
For example, health and safety are a big topic in sports these days, but DePauw does not have the luxury, as many larger institutions do, to assign a sports medicine staff to handle it, “we’re actually asking all of our coaches to understand how to recognize an emergency, how to enact our emergency action plan and how to make sure we can get those student-athletes to care as quickly as possible,” she says.
She also encourages DePauw coaches to recruit athletes by communicating the DePauw experience and the value of that experience and how athletics can be a part of that for them.” The coaches, she says, “do an excellent job” at that.
Her goal, she says, is for student-athletes to graduate with confidence and self-awareness, as well as enduring relationships with one another.
“I want them to have had growth opportunities when they’re here. I want them to have learned how to communicate effectively, how to problem-solve,” she says. “Part of that experience comes with wins. We live in a space where we are judged every day on whether we are successful or not, based upon the scoreboard. And so it would be silly for me to say that winning was not important. Winning is important, but it’s part of the equation.
“Really what I hope is that, when they leave, they say, ‘that was the best decision I ever made, participating here.’”