October 6, 1997
Volume 50, No. 7
Every year the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics tallies up the athletics accomplishments of colleges and universities around the country and awards its Sears Directors Cup to the best overall programs at each level. In 1997, Emory finished fourth out of 350 Division III schools.
Back in 1969, when Sandy Tillman arrived on campus, Emory student-athletes were happy just to be on a team and have a couple matches on the schedule. Now, as Tillman prepares to step down in January as associate athletics director after 28 years of service, University teams compete annually for both conference and national championships.
"I'm really proud of the Athletics and Recreation Department and all of the programs," Tillman said. "For all these years we've had a great intramural department; it's been stronger than the varsity program for years and years, and the varsity program is just now getting equal to it. Athletics at Emory has meant 'athletics for all,' meaning there are opportunities for everyone on campus, from faculty and staff to students."
A native of Laurel, Miss., Tillman came to Emory from Agnes Scott College as an instructor for the athletics/physical education department, which was one entity then, and taught some of everything- archery, volleyball, basketball, tennis. In fact, she coached the fledgling women's tennis team in the '70s.
"We had a really good tennis team back then too-before sports became real popular here," Tillman said. But even though the tennis team and its counterparts-both male and female-were called "varsity" sports, they were very informal and more closely resembled today's club teams.
All that changed in 1983 with the opening of the P.E. Center. Blessed with an outstanding facility, Emory began adding varsity sports, recruiting quality athletes and in 1986 signed on as a charter member of the University Athletic Association.
Through it all there has been Tillman, whose tenure at Emory has outlasted two athletics directors. She moved from physical education to athletics the same year Emory joined the UAA and has been in her current position ever since. One of her main duties is making travel arrangements for the different teams.
"With the UAA, it's always an air flight," she said. "There are mounds and mounds of details just to travel alone. After a while it all just runs together in my head. I wake up at 2 a.m. and go, 'Oh, did I check on the van?'"
Tillman is leaving Emory just as those travel duties become one sport more complicated; the Emory women's softball team will take the field for the first time in the spring 1999, bringing to 18 the number of varsity sports on campus-nine for women and nine for men.
Some may think the addition of softball is the culmination of many years of trying to bring gender equity to Emory. In terms of equal number of sports, that's true, but actually Emory was in compliance with the NCAA's Title IX, which requires the same percentage of female student-athletes as female students as a whole, for many years. But then women began to outnumber men on campus, and the University added baseball in 1990 as a varsity sport, tipping the scales in favor of male athletes. The addition of softball throws things into balance again, and that brings Tillman a certain amount of satisfaction.
"I've seen [Emory athletics] grow from hardly anything to national champions," she said. "And we've had to work to comply again with Title IX and give the female student-athletes more opportunity. I'm just happy to see it."
Looking back over her years at Emory, it's the little things that Tillman remembers the most, things like the hallway games the athletics staff played back when it comprised only a handful of people. "I like to look at life with a sense of humor, and we had a lot of funny things that happened, small things, like the time we made egg salad sandwiches and sold them at a high school swim meet. Crazy things like that."
But Tillman, at the tender age of 55, will leave the crazy times behind and take advantage of Emory's early retirement program. She said she looks forward to playing a lot of golf, her addiction of the last few years. In fact, she would like to work at a golf course in any capacity just so she can be around the game.
"I hope my only worry when I retire is whether I can find a fourth for golf," she said. "Golfing just gets in your blood."
She would also like to get back into volunteer work with her church, something she hasn't had much opportunity to do recently since she attends nearly every Emory home sporting event. "It'll be nice to have my weekends back," she said.
And, sportswise, she's accomplished the three spectator goals she set for herself a long time ago: the Olympics, the World Series and the Masters. "The Olympics were great; I enjoyed seeing all the sporting events and people of other countries," Tillman said. "And I went to the first World Series game [in 1991] that the Braves had here. That was probably more exciting than the county fair in Laurel, Mississippi."
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