By Todd Travis
An early love for athletics and teaching
Dr. Sue Willey was involved in athletics long before Title IX was around. She grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she developed a love for athletics. “I always connected with the physical education teachers because I knew in grade school that I was going to be a teacher. I loved sports and activities, so I was going to be a physical education teacher,” Dr. Willey remembered. She discovered the University of Indianapolis through her physical education teacher who had also attended UIndy before moving to Iowa. That teacher made a big impact on Willey and acted as a mentor in addition to a physical education teacher. “Three years later, I went to UIndy and never left,” she said.
The beginning of an impressive career
Willey participated in five different sports and started the women’s tennis team her sophomore year. “I’m a person who was denied opportunities young because there was no Title IX. So when I got that opportunity, I played everything I could,” Willey explained. She graduated and UIndy offered a half-time teaching and coaching job while she got her masters. After working half time for two years she began teaching and coaching full time at the university and continued to coach for 23 years.
Reaching new milestones
While she was working full time, Willey also attended Indiana University where she got her doctorate. “I drove to Bloomington every day from January to August. I was able to apply for a sabbatical which allowed me to finish my doctorate,” Willey mentioned. From that point, she began to transition into more of an administrative role at the university. She became an associate professor and then served as the department chair of health and physical education. “After I got my doctorate, I had the opportunity to go the academic route or continue on the athletic route. My passion for athletics led me to continue down that route. My whole career I strived to improve opportunities not only for women, but all student-athletes,” she stated. For the last 17 years she served as director of athletics and then as vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics.
Perseverance pays off
“I will say that pre-Title IX and the early days after, I did get passed over positions from being a woman and being a strong woman – but perseverance paid off. I think if I had a support group like the young women administrators have now, they probably would have said, ‘You need to leave because they’re holding you back.’ But I wanted to make a change and I wanted to make things better for my alma mater. So I stuck it out and in the end it all paid off,” she recalled. Now she is able to look back proudly at her 45-year career with UIndy and is being recognized as a trailblazer by the Women Leaders in College Sports. She will be honored at their convention in October.
On Sept. 30, Willey will be honored by UIndy for her impact on the university and the athletic program. The newly installed gym floor in the Ruth Lilly Fitness Center will be dedicated and named in her honor. “When I heard I would be receiving this honor I was floored,” she said. “I’m honored and humbled, but I have to say that it wasn’t just me, it was the whole team working together to make this all happen.” In her 17 years as an administrator, she helped to grow the program from 400 to over 700 student-athletes. “Something that really honored me was that coaches had opportunities to go other places, but they loved the atmosphere that we created, so they stayed. And we had a lot of great longtime coaches, which you don’t see many places.”
Life after athletics
“My ideal retirement would be nine months in Florida and the hottest three months in Alaska. I’m anxious to get into some volunteer work in addition to doing some traveling,” she said.