Long-time Athletics Administrator Peel Hawthorne ’80 retires

Peel Hawthorne '80 in her office. PEERAWUT RUANGSAWASDI / THE FLAT HAT
Peel Hawthorne '80 in her office. PEERAWUT RUANGSAWASDI / THE FLAT HAT

In her office adorned with photos of her time as a women’s field hockey coach and favorite memories at the College of William and Mary, Peel Hawthorne ’80 shared her experiences at the College as an undergraduate, a coach and later an administrator.

Making the decision to take half of a gap year after getting into the College as an early decision applicant, Hawthorne moved into the basement of Madison Hall in the spring semester of her freshman year.

“They told me that they had a space open up. And so I moved into Madison basement. And that was where all the misfits went because [they were] people that had transferred in or didn’t get along with their roommate. They had no spot, so I had no orientation whatsoever,” Hawthorne said.

She said that while she had a wonderful roommate, she was “miserable” until lacrosse started.

“I was crushed. My academic advisor, he didn’t understand athletics at all. And so he encouraged me to take 18 hours, and so I took [it] and I was a science major. So I was taking biology, chemistry, calculus, a language. And so I was taking five classes. It was ridiculous,” Hawthorne said.

In any case, Hawthorne had a very successful athletic career as an undergraduate. According to her website page, during her career the Tribe field hockey team posted a record of 52-13-7 and made two trips to the the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Nationals, finishing fifth in 1979. She also helped the team allow just 0.92 goals per game during her career, while scoring five goals as a defender.

After graduating from the College with a degree in physical education, Hawthorne received her master’s degree in sports medicine from the University of Virginia and got her certification as an athletic trainer. After that, she started working at the University of Richmond and Williams College in Massachusetts, where she was interim head lacrosse coach.

“I didn’t know a soul up there. I quickly made friends and found my way, but I was taking the place of a woman who was on the U.S. team, and so she took a leave of absence, and then it was touch or go, whether she would come back,” Hawthorne said. “And in the meantime, I had started looking elsewhere. And as it turned out, she did actually make the [Olympic team] and I had already given my notice that I was going to leave.”

Hawthorne said she was looking at two positions after Williams College, one for athletic training at Bucknell University and another as a head field hockey-lacrosse coach at Connecticut College. After interviewing at Connecticut College and getting a job offer, she took it on the spot and remained there for the next four years.

She would later serve at the College as the head field hockey coach from 1987 to 2013. She also assisted with coaching the lacrosse team, as well as teaching classes in the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center.

“I almost left after about maybe six or seven years of that. It was really hard because I couldn’t do any of them really well and having two bosses, that was really hard,” Hawthorne said.

She said to mitigate that issue, she and her colleagues began taking classes, with Hawthorne herself taking undergraduate courses in organic chemistry and physics to try to improve her resume. However, the College split the program and let go of coaches that were teaching, focusing coaches towards only athletic duties.

“And so my job got better, then [Tess Ellis] came and she made my life better, because she was just an awesome assistant and fun person to work with,” Hawthorne said.

Ellis arrived at the College in 1993 as an assistant to Hawthorne, before taking over as field hockey head coach after Hawthorne in 2013.

“It’s funny, when she came, we only paid assistants $4,000 a year,” Hawthorne said. “We just didn’t pay assistants very well. And so, any assistant I had, if I wanted a good one, I had to provide housing. So if you go to Tess’s office, you’ll see all those plaques that were at the celebration the other night. And my partner came in and looked at those. And was like ‘Ah! A wall of roommates!’ Almost every assistant coach up there had lived in the garage.”

Coming from Australia, Ellis met Hawthorne at an indoor field hockey tournament when Ellis’s team was short of a player. Hawthorne was recruited to join the team and ended up winning the tournament. Hawthorne said she told Ellis that she would want her to come work with her at the College in the future if there was an opening.

Hawthorne waited until the last minute before moving on to administration. Terry Driscoll, the athletics director at the time, told Hawthorne to “name the time” that she would want to work as an administrator.

“I said, I think, let me help me get my team through pre-season and then I’ll move over,” Hawthorne said. “Because you need all hands on deck for pre-season. It’s just grueling. And so I got through and we had two former players as our assistant coaches. And right at the end of pre-season, told us that she was going to take the reins, and then we were in great shape, we had great captains, we had a good team. So we were really poised. It was a perfect time to leave.”

Hawthorne touched on the experience of working with students at the College.

“I love working with, particularly, William and Mary students,” Hawthorne said. “Everywhere I went was high academic, but, to be Division-I high academic. William and Mary just — people come here wanting the best of both worlds, and they want the highest academics. They want the challenge of high level athletics. And so it was just that every day was just a new adventure.”

She touched on the importance of keeping in touch with her former students.

“They’re so smart and funny. I still have three of my seniors from that first year came back for the celebration. Yeah, it was just so much fun, they were just as funny and irreverent as they ever were. It was just wonderful to see them. So I maintain good relationships with almost all my players. A few of them fell off the map, but most of them have stayed in touch. And it’s just that whole opportunity to help them grow up and become young adults and make connections,” Hawthorne said.

A number of her students have gone into coaching, which Hawthorne said has always made her chuckle, especially when they would call her or send her an email apologizing and saying how they had not realized how difficult coaching was. She emphasized that student-athletes at the College often become like siblings, noting that three of her teammates were present at her retirement celebration Friday, April 19.

As an administrator in the athletics department, she got to see how much of a difference alumni donors make to athletics.

“If not for those long standing relationships and just people wanting to give back, after their own experiences, certainly mine was, I had a fantastic collegiate experience as a student-athlete,” Hawthorne said. “I got crushed initially. I righted myself eventually. And compared to William and Mary, UVA grad school was a piece of cake.”

Emphasizing relationships, she cited a group of freshman athletes in 2010 who made a pact that they were going to stay friends, even if they stopped playing. Hawthorne showed a picture of them, saying that she got the chance to officiate the wedding of one of the players.

In terms of challenges throughout her career, she shared she faced many different types both as a coach and as an administrator. One of them was saying “no” to coaches, as well as challenges from players and parents. Overall, however, she remarked it was such a positive experience. Coaches are educators, and coaching is her identity, she said.

As an administrator, senior advisor to athletics for special projects, senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator, Hawthorne would later serve in various roles across the College. She served as a member and later president of the Professionals and Professional Faculty Assembly, where she advocated for the ability for staff members to be able to take classes more easily.

She would later be appointed to the President’s Task Force on Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment, the Retention and Graduation Working Group, the Women and Philanthropy Internal Advisory Group, the 100 Years of Women Steering Committee and the Learning Spaces Planning Committee.

According to Athletics Director Brian Mann, the College also established an award in her name, the Peel Hawthorne award, as the department’s highest honor. Additionally, Hawthorne was this year’s recipient of the Shirley Aceto award, given annually to a member of the instructional or professional faculty who demonstrates an exceptional commitment to excellence in service to the campus community, according to the College.

Hawthorne said she looks forward to more free time after retirement.

“I’m pretty sure a Galapagos trip is in our future because we’ll go there probably next year. Actually, one of my teammates is thinking about it — well, wants to. So that’ll be fun. But initially, I mean, I’ve got a lot of interest, and, obviously music is one of them. I like to sketch and I like to mess around with boats. And, hope to spend some time on the water,” Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne shared one piece of advice for students.

“I learned it from someone else, but find that one person that could be a professor, could be a coach, could be a secretary or somebody that works at the Caf that knows you by name and cares about your well-being, or could be a friend, just find that one person. If you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, grab on to them and be that inquisitive, curious person that asks a lot of questions and ask for help. I never asked, and I paid dearly for it. It’s okay to ask,” Hawthorne said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here