Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Holy Child’s Wooters is AD of the year

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It’s quite simple: Sheila Wooters can’t look a student in the eye and say, ‘‘No.”

In her 34th year as athletics director at the Connelly School of the Holy Child, Wooters jumps at every opportunity to help any of her 350 students, grades 6-12, in their athletic endeavors. Wooters was rewarded for her dedication and accomplishments April 12 at the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association’s annual banquet, where she was named MSADA Athletic Director of the Year.

Wooters, 56, became just the second AD from an all-girls school to earn the honor in its 30-year history. She was named District 2A (Montgomery County private schools) Athletic Director of the year in 2007.

‘‘I didn’t think it would mean much,” Wooters said. ‘‘That’s not why I do my job. But you do kind of feel like, ‘Wow, someone noticed.’ You don’t do it for that reason, though. Payback comes from working with these remarkable girls.”

Holy Child, founded in 1961 by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, follows the educational philosophy of Cornelia Connelly (1809-1879), who preached the importance of the ‘‘whole child.” The emphasis is on academic excellence, but Connelly also stated the importance of time for recreation. And Wooters’ focus is to promote well-rounded student-athletes.

Sports have always been an important outlet for the Silver Spring native, who played field hockey, basketball and softball at the now-defunct Ursuline Academy in Bethesda. She swam for four years at St. Leo (Fla.) University, where she graduated in 1974.

That enthusiasm is conveyed in her passion for Holy Child athletics. Wooters attends every event she can to ensure she’s providing the best opportunities for her students.

And Wooters hasn’t just had an impact on girls at her own school. She has been instrumental in the growth and success of the Independent School League. When Wooters, who teaches physical education and has coached every sport at Holy Child, took over as AD in 1974 (her first job out of college) the ISL was the Independent School Association. Because it wasn’t a league, there wasn’t a championship; no banners.

Wooters, along with several cohorts, lobbied to form a league. In 1979, the 16-team ISL was formed. In the last two decades she’s grown Holy Child’s athletics program from four varsity sports to 22 high school teams and 16 middle school teams.

‘‘Sheila has a high energy level and an enthusiasm for athletics and for the kids that stretches far beyond the confines of a P.E. class,” Holy Child director of development Suzi Montes de Oca said. ‘‘The changes she’s brought, her ability to bring out the best in the players and to increase Holy Child’s visibility and participation is just amazing.”

Wooters also emphasizes the importance of community service among her athletes. In 1998 she started a soccer program for autistic children and expanded it to basketball in 2003; students help run the clinics. She is a Eucharistic minister and has been part of ‘‘The Welcome Program” for a prison outreach ministry. And she’s a cancer intervention mentor with Johns Hopkins University.

‘‘It’s important not to be confined to a box,” Wooters said. ‘‘Ten years ago I had a student come up to me and said she was very involved in equestrian competition and it was too bad we didn’t have anything at our school. So I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I coached for the first two years and I’m afraid of horses. Now there’s a show every month and over 100 athletes involved from public and private schools around the county. ...

‘‘The most important thing to understand is, we are trying to raise a future. It’s not about girls shooting a ball into a basket. It’s about teaching them life skills and making them aware of the world around them.”