After 45 years at the University of Indianapolis and 17 years as UIndy’s vice president of intercollegiate athletics, Sue Willey has announced her retirement. Prior to becoming the first female VP of intercollegiate athletics, Willey was a student-athlete, a coach and an administrator at UIndy. She said her tenure has been exhilarating and exciting.
“I have a great passion for it,” Willey said. “Being able to see all the changes that have taken place on campus and in our athletic department has been [the] most rewarding and exciting to see the growth of the institution. It’s just been, like most people say, it’s been a great ride and it continues to be.”
When she was named VP 17 years ago, Willey said she was surprised by the support she received. The press conference announcing her position was something she will never forget, she said.
“I knew I had great relationships on campus, but when I went into the atrium in Schwitzer and the number of people from all over campus that were there, I just was blown away,” Willey said. “The feeling was just overwhelming. It was something I will always, always remember.”
When Willey stepped into the VP position, the athletic department lacked full-time head coach positions for some sports. Now, each sport has a full-time head coach. She told The Reflector in 2003 that one of her goals was to garner a national spotlight and accomplish at least one national championship in at least one sport. Since then, Women’s Golf has won two national championships and the university has had 11 individuals who have become national champions.
Willey is most notably respected for her emphasis on student-athletes’ success, Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Compliance Scott Young said.
“I think that [what] I respect the most about her is just putting the emphasis on the academics and social, but still mixing that with the expectations to be successful in your sport,” Young said. “Never putting an emphasis on just winning, but also putting all of our student-athletes in places to be successful as students, people and athletes.”
During the 2018-19 school year, for the first time ever, every team earned a 3.0 GPA. The university has seen a lot of changes in the time that she has been at the university, Jackie Paquette, associate athletic director and senior woman administrator for student support and community engagement said. Another goal that Willey had when entering the VP position was to revamp the facilities in the athletic department, she said. The changes to the athletic facilities is one of the major things that Willey was able to accomplish in her tenure, Paquette said. New facilities like the ARC and a new softball field have been built, as well as many other improvements.
Willey was an athlete at UIndy in the 1970s and is the first female director of athletics that the university has had, according to the Feb. 5, 2003 issue of The Reflector. Paquette said she respects the hard work Willey has put in to advance against female biases.
“She’s fought her entire career through that,” Paquette said. “It just lends to a great amount of respect. She literally came up through Title IX and what Title IX was intended to do was literally for her in her generation. I think it’s impressive what she’s been able to do having dealt with that.”
Willey has a passion for providing the best experience for student-athletes. Willey said she could not be more proud of the athletic department’s environment, where they treat every sport in the same manner, she said.
“I’m going to leave this institution and the athletic department in a better place than what I found it, knowing full well that the next person is going to take it from where I leave it on to greater heights,” Willey said. “That’s what I want. I want to leave in a great place, we’ve got great people, great leadership… we’ve made great progress, but the next person is going to come in and still continue to do things however they see fit… I just couldn’t be more proud of our staff, so I would hope that people would feel like I made a difference. I cared about them more than just wins and losses and that I’ve set ourselves up for success in the future.”
Beyond her accomplishments, Paquette said she values Willey’s determination and enthusiasm for the athletics department. She said she’ll remember Willey for being a trailblazing woman who paved the way. Paquette said above all, she will miss Willey’s enthusiasm for UIndy Athletics.
“This is her life, this is what she loves. She bleeds crimson and gray,” Paquette said. “That enthusiasm I think is, is something that is very unique to her. Obviously all of us are enthusiastic, but it’s something that she’s [been] living for 40 years. There isn’t anybody else here who can touch that. To have that longevity and for that longevity to translate into the career she’s had, it’s something you don’t see anymore. And it’s something that I think we’ll all miss.”
After she retires, Willey said she plans to move to Florida and continue to mentor young professionals who aspire to be athletic directors. She also plans to read, write, and take the time to learn how to fly fish. She hopes to get her volleyball officiating license to assist with the growing shortage of high school and collegiate officials, she said. And without a doubt, she said, she will provide support for whoever takes her place next.
“Seventeen years ago when I was named the Director of Athletics [now VP of intercollegiate athletics], I had a vision for what our department could become. My goal was to provide whatever was necessary for our student athletes to have a great athletic experience and to provide coaches the tools they needed to be successful,” Willey said. “It was to elevate our university athletics program to a level that would be recognized as a premiere Division II institution. I believe I, we have accomplished that both athletically and academically. It’s time for the next VP for intercollegiate athletics to take UIndy Athletics to even greater heights.”