When Toni Woody began her career as New Paltz’s athletic director, she knew she was coming into a program with a good solid base, great facilities and one with lots of great ideas. “Coming from tiny Haldane (in Cold Spring, NY in Dutchess County) it was my idea to keep everything here moving forward, trying to make the program even better than it was.”
The moving forward seems to be Woody’s mantra in terms of updating curriculum, updating medical care, updating equipment and facilities, but still holding to concepts and standards that she found when she arrived in 1999. “I enjoy seeing progress, people in general, not just athletes, teachers and coaches. Feeling I was on the cutting edge of something,” she says of her first (and last?) AD job. She followed in the footsteps of the very omnipresent John Ford — ex-Haldane AD Ralph Ponessa was an interim AD just before her — and she admits, laughing, that it produced some “interesting moments for sure, the change-over was dramatic for some people”, including the question of academic eligibility. Before Woody, there was no policy concerning it. She decided to hear each and every perspective on the concept, knowing only the policy from her years as teacher and coach at Haldane. So she formed and piloted a committee in 2001 on this question: should there be a more stringent policy?
“I felt that for students school is their job, extra-curriculars were just icing on the cake. It’s responsibility for the moment and I know there are plenty of things we may not like, but we have to deal with. So we instituted a five-week period of eligibility (to get grades up to be eligible to be in any extracurricular activities) that was easier to apply when we instituted block scheduling, which helps teachers get to know their students better, to connect with them because, let’s face it, everyone hits a hole at some time and students are no different. It was the difference between can’t and won’t, where some students just can’t make it academically versus the ones that just won’t work at it, but can. So we tried to be flexible in establishing and implementing this policy.”
Woody was also one of the first women AD’s in the MHAL (Webutuck’s Carla Davis was the first full-time AD, with Highland’s Madeline Labriola an interim AD two decades ago). She didn’t see it as a problem. Growing up a good all-around athlete in mixed competition (pick-up games) in Westchester county’s Katonah and going to athletics-rich Division 3 East Stroudsburg and being an EMT during her college and post-college years, “I had no problem holding my own in male-dominated professions: fire companies, police, paramedics, etc., the Newburgh ambulance core, I always felt comfortable.” Her mother and father were both top athletes and her uncle played football under legendary football coach Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, “so coming to New Paltz as an AD was not that strange for me. Stereotypical attitudes had also pretty much changed.”
Which brings us to the watershed Title IX of 1972. It advanced women’s sports to being on a level playing field as men’s sports, especially financially. “People had to realize that Title IX was a good thing that opened doors not just for women’s sports, but for jobs in sports, with lots of young women — like myself — getting an opportunity to teach phys. ed., coach or be an athletic director in a school.”
So, I ask Toni Woody, what do you think is your legacy here at New Paltz?
“I always tried to move things forward. Get the best ideas. The best methods to do that, especially wearing a lot of hats in this job. Getting community support for student mental health issues was very important. Not to use such a scatter-shot approach. Involve the community more. We expanded the AD job from when I took it over, adding in a lot of health programs, while adding some seven new sports programs to the school…I guess I just tried to roll with the progress that was being made around me; just keep moving things in a forward direction.”