National Girls & Women in Sports Day: Queens AD Cherie Swarthout

Queens AD Cherie Swarthout is the only female athletic director in the Atlantic Sun.

Queens AD Cherie Swarthout is the only female athletic director in the Atlantic Sun.

For the first time in program history, Queens University of Charlotte competes at the Division I level.

Following the 2021-22 academic year, Queens University of Charlotte athletic director Cherie Swarthout — who’s in her 17th year at Queens and her eighth as the school’s AD — announced the university would transition to Division I athletics from Division II.

Despite the move, 2022-23 is shaping up to be another successful season for the Royals, both on and off the field. The Royals had 468 student-athletes earn a 3.0 GPA or higher a season ago. The school’s athletes posted a cumulative 3.39 GPA, one of their best years under Swarthout.

This year, the men’s basketball team is on pace to notch its 13th consecutive winning season. The Queens swimming and diving teams remain a powerhouse: The men’s and women’s squads have won the past seven Division II national titles.

Swarthout played college basketball at Michigan State, where she led the Spartans to their first NCAA tournament bid in school history as a senior. After graduation, she joined Illinois State to coach under women’s basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jill Hutchison.

Swarthout credits Karen Langeland, LeAnna Bordner, Sue Guevara, Linda Herman, Jeannie King and Hutchison among her mentors. Through their lessons, Swarthout is inspiring the next generation of women and girls in sports.

“I have been blessed with playing for and working for pioneers,” Swarthout said. “It is because of what they worked toward and the history lesson I was constantly given that has embedded in me the need to provide opportunity, elevate and empower women in sports throughout my career and most significantly as the AD at Queens.”

Swarthout is the only female athletic director in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and just the second in the league’s history. Only 20% of athletic director roles are held by women across all collegiate sports divisions.

With her answers lightly edited for clarity and brevity, here’s what Swarthout said about her role in athletics:

On her early coaching influences

Swarthout: “I’m from a very small town called Climax, Michigan. It’s a tiny town with less than 1,000 people. I graduated with 42 kids in my high school class then I went to a school of 42,000 at Michigan State. My head coach was Karen Langeland. And, I had two assistants, Sue Guevara and LeAnna Bordner, who I really believed in out of the gate. What’s interesting is that my experience was kind of a leap of faith for the small-farm kid, to get to Michigan State, and play Big Ten Division I basketball. Those three individuals in particular remain steadfast in my life today.”

Working for Dr. Jill Hutchison

Swarthout: “Jill Hutchison is also an icon in Title IX, and women’s basketball and everything that she’s done at Illinois State. … After graduating from Michigan State, I was offered an opportunity to go work for Jill. It was the best of both worlds to play basketball for three great female leaders. And then at Illinois State working for Jill Hutchison.”

“I have always been, especially in those younger years, I was at Illinois State for 10 years, surrounded by (female) leaders who have really made a difference. And they did it in their own ways, each of them.”

Finding her style at Queens

Swarthout: “I arrived at Queens, and we have a female president. And we have a female athletic director in Jeanne King. Again, two really strong leaders that have influenced and shaped me greatly. And again, everybody doing it their own way. And I hope that I’ve taken a little bit from each one of them, and created my own sense of my own style around trying to continually promote and elevate women of sport.”

On being a women’s athletics pioneer

Swarthout: I think (my mentors) viewed it as a tremendous opportunity. And not necessarily a burden. They knew what was important and gave females an opportunity to participate by elevating women in sports — whether it’s through coaching or administration. They were always huge mentors and promoters of women.”

“Each of them lifted women up and I think that’s extremely important. They’re always looking for opportunities to lift. That’s what I tried to do at Queens, when we’re hiring staff or hiring coaches, etc. The things that I can control. I do try to control by providing those opportunities to lift, and empower women to make a difference.”

Life as a Division I athletic director

Swarthout: “College athletics is a lifestyle. It’s not a job, it is a lifestyle. So the ability to integrate yourself into the campus and the campus community, and everything that you do in the department, and your family, I think is really pivotal. Because, it’s a 24/7 job, to be honest with you. I get calls early in the morning, sometimes, in the middle of the night, sometimes late at night, every day of the week. So it is very much a lifestyle, and it’s a commitment. But you will never find a more powerful profession when you are surrounded by people who constantly want to get better every single day.

“We’re goal-driven, and we want to succeed and we want to keep moving the needle. We get better every day. Nothing ever stays the same, right? So you get better every single day. And, to be in that environment, I just don’t think there’s any other place like it. You find collaboration and collegiality, teamwork, positivity, the growth. It is a very passionate and emotional profession. The highs when that ball goes through the hoop, and the lows when it comes out. There’s just nothing like it.”

Advice for girls and women in sports

Swarthout: ”The first thing is to open as many doors as you can, and walk through those doors. Find mentors that are going to help open those doors and lift you up. Find the positivity in everything that you do. And just keep moving forward. You’re gonna have setbacks, but keep going forward. And if you have a goal, go get it. Go get it and find other people who are going to help support that goal … that mission and that vision that you’ve set out for yourself.”

Hailing from Minnesota, Ellis L. Williams joined the Observer in October 2021 to cover the Carolina Panthers. Prior, he spent two years reporting on the Browns for Plain Dealer. Having escaped cold winters, he’s thrilled to consume football, hoops, music and movies within the Queen City.

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