When you look at the history of athletic directors in the commonwealth of Kentucky, you will notice a common pattern; many (in fact almost all) of them are men. However, you will see that three names are those of women, one of them being Rita Pritchett of Asbury College for ten years from 1989-1999, another being Holly Sheilley of Transylvania University, who graduated from Asbury in ‘94. Rita Pritchett was the first woman to ever be named athletic director at the collegiate level in Kentucky, and it just so happened that the third woman collegiate athletic director in Kentucky was a star athlete at Asbury during her tenure.
Sheilley played volleyball, basketball, and softball during her collegiate athletic career, and was inducted into the Asbury College Hall of Fame this past April. Being a standout ath- lete at Asbury strengthened her relationship with Rita Pritchett, who was Athletic Director at Asbury during that same time, and who became a huge role model for the budding star athlete. Pritchett was integral in revealing to a young Sheilley the path a woman can take in the world of sports, and that a woman is not limited to any certain level.
“Rita Pritchett was a huge role model for me,” she said.
Sheilley explained that as far as her role models go, Pritchett is at the top of the list along with her parents.
“My mom and dad were role models as far as supporting me in what I wanted to do. But Dr. Pritchett has had a huge impact on me personally and professionally,” she said.
Although Pritchett passed away in 2012 from brain cancer, her legacy is cemented and continues through Sheilley’s work, considering Dr. Sheilley is in a category of only two other women, essentially making her sort of a trailblazer.
“I mean, think about it. Kentucky didn’t get a woman athletic director at the collegiate level until ’89,” she said.
Considering the proud history of collegiate athletics in Kentucky, this was long overdue.
Sheilley lives by the idea of constantly taking risks, and going after your goals. She recommends that young people do the same. As far as a motto is concerned, she said, “Don’t sacrifice the permanent at the altar of the immediate. Step back and think about the permanent consequences, especially today where everything we do sticks with us.”
It is this motto that led her to achieve her goals of becoming an Athletic Director.
“Being an Athletic Director was something I always wanted to do,” she said. “I started out coaching at first, but didn’t feel like I had the support of the administration. I wanted to take an administrative role after that.”
Shelley has made it a point to ensure the coaches at Transy that they have the full support of the administration. As athletic director, she oversaw the construction of Pat Deacon Stadium on Fourth Street, a $10 million deal.
In addition, Sheilley’s work has a chance to give the admissions office a leg up on recruiting new student athletes, along with an almost Division One-level facility.
“I think it would be hard for a recruit to walk in there and not be wowed,” she said. “I want our athletic facilities here to match what I feel like we are. You see the new technology and graphics in the Beck Center. We’re working hard to get on the bus of powerhouse programs, and stay there… Our staff members are doing great work, it’s exciting to watch.”
With athletic teams all across campus eyeing conference tournament championships and NCAA tournament births, it truly is an exciting time for Transy athletics, and no small part of the credit is due to the work of Dr. Sheilley.