Ursuline Academy Athletic Director Jen Brooks, recently named the Missouri Athletic Director of the Year by the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, is a trailblazer and a strong believer in Catholic education.
Brooks is the first non-public school athletic director selected for the honor in the 47-year
history of the award. She is also the second woman to receive it.
She said she’s thrilled to represent Catholic schools. “One of the blessings of this job is I get to show my faith and live my faith every day. That’s huge,” Brooks said. She has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Maryville University.
“To incorporate athletics and theology is amazing,” she said. “We talk about God. We lean on St. Angela, we lean on St. Ursula and talk about them. We talk about faith. It’s a common bond we have.”
‘There for me’
Lia DiPiazza, a senior who plays soccer and field hockey at Ursuline, said she had a rough spot her sophomore year during soccer season. She went to Brooks for support, who made it clear she was meant to be part of the team and her hard work would pay off. “She comforted me and told me she’d always be there for me,” DiPiazza said. “I could go there three times a day if I wanted to, her door is open. She wanted me to know that I was supported and she was listening to me.”
DiPiazza said she plans to stay in touch with Brooks. “She wants to hear how successful we are as women of faith on and off the field and in education as we continue the next chapters of our lives,” she said.
Jocelyn Diehl, an assistant lacrosse and field hockey coach at Ursuline, said Brooks “is always trying to uplift and support women in the field.” At Ursuline, Brooks promotes a Catholic-based outlook, including the naming of a player on each team who is a prayer leader, Diehl said.
Women in sports
Brooks said the award means that “as women in sports, we are finally not being ignored. We are seen and we are being heard.”
At Ursuline, Brooks often suggests to students or graduates that they have what it takes to be a coach, officiate or have another role in sports. As a mentor coordinator with the state association, she mentors new athletic directors. “I never had anyone mentor me, and the path was not easy for me,” she related. “I’m trying to create that path for other females so it’s an easier journey for them.”
Brooks said she “got lucky” when she was hired by Debby Watson, then-athletic director at Villa Duchesne and now president of Barat Academy, to coach junior varsity basketball at Villa. That coaching experience got her in the door. She landed a job teaching theology at Ursuline, and asked Ursuline’s athletic director if she could help her. When the athletic director resigned, Brooks stepped in and has been in the administrative role for 25 years.
There’s a value in a woman being the leader of the athletic program at an all-girls school, Brooks said. The students “can see it, they can be it. That’s so important for these young women. They can see a woman in leadership.”
As a female leader in the sports world, she said she was, and sometimes still is, seen as too masculine and too feminine at the same time.
“That’s not fair,” Brooks said. “I like to use the visual of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels. That’s what I feel my life has been like as a female athletic director. I sit shoulder to shoulder with my male colleagues doing the exact same job, but because of all these biases and preconceived notions people have about women leaders in sports, my job is that much harder.”
She works to dispel those notions and biases and stayed true to herself while making a positive impression. Then, she takes the next step in helping young women, her peers and colleagues, to understand that “when we enter the room we deserve to be there. Be confident and don’t let them talk over you. Make them create room for you.”
It took her a while to gain that confidence herself but with a laugh said, “I found it, and I’m not stopping now.”
Brooks founded the Global Community of Women in High School Sports to encourage more women to get involved, support them and assist male allies. She added “The Power of Being the Only Woman in the Room” through Jen Brooks, LLC.
Brooks played three sports — basketball, soccer and softball at Rosary High School and at Maryville University, and she’d like to see more multi-sport athletes. Her dad, Dan Matusiak, a science teacher and golf coach at St. Dominic High School, has served as a coach, teacher, principal, athletic director and president at Catholic schools.
>> The year in sports
Ursuline Academy offers 14 sports and is a member of the Metro Women’s Athletic Association (MWAA) made up of eight schools.
In the fall, Ursuline Academy’s varsity tennis team took third place in the state class 1 tournament. The varsity golf team took fifth in the state class 2 tournament.
In winter, the varsity basketball team won its district, an accomplishment that had proved elusive in recent years. Ursuline’s cheer and dance teams ranked high in national and state championships.
This spring, the varsity soccer team is off to a good start, with a number of early-season victories.