Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
KEOSAUQUA — It is not often that the first time one applies for a job in a different field they are hired. Either the employer really wants the applicant or the applicant is perfect for the job or both.
Emily Cline started working as the Van Buren County athletic director July 1, replacing Wes McGraw who took the equivalent job at Central Lee.
Cline is a 1995 Harmony High School graduate whose mother, stepfather, brother and sister live in the area. Van Buren added “county” to it’s name when it merged with Harmony. It uses the Harmony building as an elementary school.
"I think it will definitely bring some memories back for me,“ Cline said. ”There are still some teachers in the district and some coaches around from when I was in school. That will be pretty cool.“
Cline has been the women’s basketball coach at Know College in Galesburg, Illinois for the last 13 years and the Van Buren County job was the first time she applied to work as an AD.
"I had always wanted to get into administration when I was done coaching, but it came about sooner than I anticipated,“ said Cline, who heard about the job from her brother. “I’ve heard really good things about my predecessor, and it sounds like he’s going to be a tough act to follow.”
After the offer, Cline still took a couple days to accept “to make sure it was the right thing for me. I thought it was in my best interest to come back to Southeast Iowa.” She has three nieces and nephews that are getting to the age where sports are an option, and she doesn’t want to miss out on watching them.
Cline did not miss out on any sports attending Harmony. She lettered in volleyball, basketball, softball, cross-country and track and field. Although Cline’s love was basketball, softball loved her. There were Division I offers to play softball coming out of high school.
“I wasn’t willing to give up basketball, so that’s the path it set me on,” she said.
An associate of arts degree in social work from East Central College in Union, Missouri, in 1998 was followed with a secondary education and English degree from Cornell College in 2001. Cline was an all-conference basketball and softball player at both colleges.
Cline was looked up to for her talent in sports. Now as a female administrator, “I want to be a role model because often in the athletics world, it’s all male, which is not bad. I’ve loved the coaches I’ve had, but I just want females to see the possibilities. It’s a cool opportunity for me to show young women the potential.”
Female athletic directors are rare at the high school level in Iowa and in management positions throughout the sports world. In NCAA Division I, there are 10 percent female athletic directors, a fact University of Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw made a point of in a 2019 news conference before the NCAA tournament.
“Girls are socialized to know (that) gender rules are already set,” McGraw said. “That’s the problem. All these millions of girls that play sports, we’re teaching them great things about life skills, but wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead?”
McGraw said she would never hire a male as an assistant to make up for all the prejudice against women.
"I definitely think there is male domination throughout the athletic world administration,“ Cline said. ”I wouldn’t use the word prejudice. Athletics is primarily a man’s world. That’s changing.“
Although Cline has seen growth in her 20 years in athletics, there aren’t as many women as “I would like to see, but that’s true for many reasons.”
Cline said it is not just about them getting hired for upper management positions in administration, but at every level there are obstacles.
“It’s not an easy career and the hours are all over the place,” Cline said. “There are a lot of complex reasons why hiring women is not as popular as men. While there is growth in the area, there’s definitely potential for much more.”
It is important for girls and young women to see that any door they choose to knock on will be opened for them.
“Females should know that any goal they have is attainable,” Cline said. “They need to see that these kind of opportunities are out there.”
Cline took advantage of her opportunities and toured with an Athletes in Action women's basketball team through Bolivia in 2002 and coached in Costa Rica in 2013. She started coaching as a student assistant at Cornell in 2000, two years as a graduate assistant at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. There she earned a master's degree in organizational leadership. In 2003, Cline moved on to coach at Sewanee, the University of the South, in Tennessee.
At Knox, Cline's Prairie Fire squads have set numerous school records, including 18 by the 2014-15 team that led NCAA Division III in per game steals with 18.5 and offensive rebounds at 22.1. Second in per game 3-point field goals with 10.5 and points at 90, Knox had the most program wins in the Midwest Conference since the 1996-97 season and the most victories in a season since the 2001-02 campaign.
Cline's Knox teams steadily improved including a winning record in each of the last five seasons (70-51 overall) with 16 wins in both 2017-18 and 2019-20 and a school record of 11 conference wins in each of those seasons. The team made its first Midwest Conference Tournament appearance in over 20 years in 2017-18 and returned in 2019-20.
Turning her talents into administration duties, Cline welcomes the challenge even though it will remove coaching.
“I’m not sure what that will be like,” Cline said. "I will definitely miss coaching. I love coaching.”
As the athletic director, Cline will still be in coaching mode as she takes over a Warriors athletic program with a rich winning tradition. Two years ago, Van Buren County qualified for state in volleyball. The track, golf, basketball and cross-country teams have had many successes. The softball team was ranked this year.
There’s a lot of things from coaching that she’ll be able to use in her job as athletic director.
“I am coach Cline. I hope I can still be addressed as that because that’s what I’m used to.”
Being at a small college, a coach’s job involved a little bit of everything. “You don’t have people doing things for you like you do at DI schools so I’m used to handling all of that. A lot of the things I’ve done in my career are applicable. I’m hoping that I can take the good and the bad of all the places I have been, all the bosses I’ve had and use that until I find my own style that works for me.”
Sports provides a positive and supportive environment that Cline sees Van Buren providing. “I want to add to that support as part of my job, but I will make it personal. I want all to succeed.
“I know I’m going to encourage every kid I come across to go out for any and all sports.”