Our American Dream: Irma Garcia, the First Latina Athletic Director in Division-I NCCA

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Published December 16, 2011

| Fox News Latino

Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream," a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.

Ever since she got into sports, Irma Garcia knew that being in charge of running an athletic program would be her ultimate goal.

She got her chance when her alma mater, St. Francis College – a small commuter school hidden in the middle of a downtown Brooklyn street, blocks away from the Brooklyn Bridge – named her not only the school's athletic director, but the first Hispanic woman to hold such post in Division 1 athletics.

The Nuyorican grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and is the third oldest amongst her eight siblings, including one brother, whom she considers one of her best friends. She arrived at St. Francis in 1976, where she played basketball. She moved on after graduating and became the physical education teacher and girls' hoops coach at St. Joseph by the Sea. She returned to her alma mater in 1988 and coached the women's team for 11 years before retiring from coaching after the 1998-99 season.

The Hall of Famer is proud of the student-athletes, whom she treats like family. She gets a tremendous amount of joy when they leave as successful young men and women upon graduating.She sees herself as a pioneer and is really concerned about problems that today's Latino youth face.

Garcia recently sat down with Fox News Latino before the school's female basketball team hosted a game and said it was always a “dream” to “be in charge of a whole program.”

Fox News Latino: Must be special to run the show here?

Garcia: Well, it's like anybody's dream. If you are in sports this is something that you always want to do, [to] be in charge of a whole program not just one team but so many teams and be able to just like make a difference in [a] kid's world. I mean, I love it. Every day I get up and even in the worst day and every day is a challenge. I still go home and say I have the best job in the whole wide world. I'm really fortunate.

FNL: Having played on and coached the women's basketball team, is there more of special bond with them over the other teams here at St. Francis?

Garcia: There will always be a special bond with women's basketball because I'm a Hall of Famer and I played and I coached them. There's always something special about the women's basketball team but as an AD I learned to see other teams, how they work and what their sport entails. I mean I love soccer, love water polo. I can watch it every day. I love going to see the kids compete in track. Swimming, even though most people think it's boring, it really is exciting when they do the relay. I've learned to really enjoy and understand what each sport entails and then I can really understand what it takes for them to do what they do.

FNL: The reality is that all of these kids won't make it professionally in the NBA, WNBA and MLB. There's a special joy in seeing them graduate?

Garcia: That's my favorite day every year. My favorite day every year is when we see my seniors graduate. There is nothing more rewarding to see young kids come in and they leave as young men and young women. It's the most rewarding thing I could ever ask for. More importantly, early on when they become freshmen and sophomores we teach about leadership and that it's not about making it in the NBA or WNBA or so forth. It's about being a true leader and being able to, once they leave the college setting, they can compete out in the real world. What I try to teach them is about the real world right from the beginning so that they understand what they are up against.

FNL: You are of one of seven girls and you have a brother. Where does your love for sports come from?

Garcia: We competed in everything and we still compete. For Christmas we meet in Florida. We compete in wiffle ball. We play volleyball. It's always the girls against the boys and even the little ones, when they even like turn one and two and they can run, everybody plays. Mom and dad play. Everyone has something to do with the game and that's the way we were brought up.

FNL: You see yourself as a pioneer for other Latinos and Latinas?

Garcia: I've taken a couple of kids and mentored them and anyone who wants to call me can. I get a ton of emails. I'm always running but when anybody needs anything and if I can, I help them in any way. Be a difference maker. I only give reference to people who I think are going to work hard because that's one of the things I had to do. My dad had to work two jobs. My mom had two jobs. We've all been taught since young. I mean I started working when I was 13. That's all I know – to work hard, and it is rewarding. Something will come out if you work extremely hard. I think that that's what my legacy is to the young Latinos and Latinas. I say don't cut corners. The one thing about our race is that they do not ask. I know my parents always said, 'This is the way it is and this is the way it's going to be,' and we had to follow it. But that's the one thing I always tell them all the time, don't be afraid to ask. You know, ask good questions. Listen very good but ask good questions. Good things will happen.

FNL: As far as you are concerned, what's the biggest problem with today's Latino youth?

Garcia: The males are not going to school and that's a problem because then you don't have leaders. The women, some of them are still caught up in the same things that we were when I was younger. You have to cook, you have to take care of your brother, you have to do this. The beauty of being a woman, no offense to the male, is that we know how to multitask. That we have the mommy genes, you know? We know that God gave us that. So we know how to do five things at the same time. So we can take care of my brother, I can take of my sister, go work, play basketball – that was part of all we had to do. Today's youth whether they have a male [role model] or don't have role models, whether their mom and dad is not together, whether there's a multi-culture [marriage] now as opposed [to]… Latino/Latinas marrying each other, they're now being multi [mixed marriages] – half-white, half African-American. So the tradition, the traditional stuff that we have been brought up on is not the same. And my concern is that with not having males in the schools, we're not going to have that leadership we should. Let's put it this way: in a few years we're not going to be in the minority anymore, we are in the majority. So where are our leaders? Who’s going to be our leaders? That's something we have to start thinking about, talking about.

FNL: Do you see enough advancement for Latinos in upper management positions in the NCAA?

Garcia: The one thing we have to be careful is that you don't want to put people in those leadership roles if they're not ready. So it's not so much, do they have the advancement as much as what are you doing with these people to make them advance there. So are there opportunities there? To me everybody has an opportunity to get that job, but we need to work harder down here to train these people get those jobs and there's a difference.

FNL: A lot of conferences are expanding in the NCAA, adding teams for football and basketball purposes only. What's your take on these “super conferences”?

Garcia: I'm from a little conference so I don't believe in it. To me money is evil and people are starting to get greedy and it's starting to show... There's no need for that. There's enough money to go around. What's the difference between $10 million and $20 million? I mean, come on, that's still being a little bit selfish. But that's the way they play. Maybe that's why I'm not interested in being somebody up there. It's not as that important to me. It's more important to me what I can do for the student-athlete, because to me – and I don't want them to lose focus, the NCAA or the super conferences – we are here to serve the students. We can't lose focus of that, and I think they are starting to lose focus of that. They're starting to see dollar signs and that's all they want. To me, sounds like they're greedy.

Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at elpiloto137@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc.

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