Interview with new athletic director
Athletic director Sandy Luu came to Catlin Gabel this year from Liberty High School in Hillsboro, where she was AD of their large 5A program. An Oregon native, Sandy previously served as athletic director at Morrison Academy International School in Taichung, Taiwan. Originally a 6th grade language arts and math teacher, she has also taught in Vietnam and China. We caught up with Sandy to find our how things are going for her at Catlin Gabel.
How’s Catlin Gabel treating you?
I have really enjoyed my first few months here. The people are amazing—just as advertised. The faculty and staff really care about the students, and about their colleagues. Everyone is so complimentary of each other’s strengths. They feed off each other in a very positive way. People here told me before I was hired that they love coming to work each and every day. I fully agree.
Tell us about your background and how you became an athletic director.
Sports have shaped my life. Growing up I played as much as I could, even persuading the middle school athletic director to let me participate on the 7th grade team as a 5th grader. In college I played varsity fast pitch softball, basketball, and volleyball, but I love all sports. I have coached basketball, softball, and volleyball. I studied education in college and taught for many years, but started moving toward athletic administration when I was in Taiwan. Coaching coaches and organizing sports really appeals to me. I took classes at Ohio University during summer vacations and earned a master’s in athletics administration.
What is your general philosophy about the role of athletics in schools?
I believe in character-based athletics. Catlin Gabel has a great tradition of winning the right way, and I want to continue this. The character development is paramount; the wins are icing on the cake. Sports are an extension of the classroom and teach lessons about how to be a good teammate and the value of hard work. Athletics builds confidence and self esteem. The skills you learn through sports will help you now and serve you well later in life. Employers look for people who know how to lead as well as people who can be good teammates. They want people who have handled loss and experienced success.
What advice would you offer athletes and their parents who think CG’s high school athletic program is too small for colleges to take notice of a star athlete?
College coaches are looking for one thing: talented athletes. They are not as interested in the size of the school or how well the school team did in recent seasons. They are really looking for potential. Being a talented student-athlete at Catlin Gabel can have a lot of advantages. You can assume a leadership role and have a great chance to earn a starting position. One of the greatest benefits here is personal attention from coaches and teachers.
Is it a disadvantage for outstanding athletes to compete at a small school if they hope for an athletic scholarship?
The advantage you gain at Catlin Gabel is the level of academics. The education you receive here is unmatched. The benefit you will have is in the transcript you provide, along with your athletic résumé. I don’t think people understand how few scholarships are available for Division I and II sports. A fully financed Division I soccer program can offer 9.9 full rides, but they split these up among all of their players (as many as 25 or 30), which leaves some players with very small scholarships. Often, Division III schools are the best places to receive scholarships. These schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, but they routinely give merit awards for academic and other accomplishments. The merit scholarships that private colleges award can be a significant percentage of tuition.
What are some of the differences between being AD at a large school like Liberty HS in Hillsboro and a small school like CG?
Going from nearly 1,400 students to 300 is a big transition. CG’s smaller program is one of the main reasons I applied for this job. I love to work with kids and build relationships with them. In a large school, the athletic director is mainly a scheduler, and most of my time was spent making sure everyone was where they needed to be. At Catlin Gabel, I can get to know the students and make sure all of the coaches are contributing to students’ lives in positive ways. I can have more of an impact.
What have you found most challenging in your new job?
In my past school, I only had high school sports. Here at CG, there are more sports teams at different levels, so have many more balls in the air. Everyone in the PE department and the coaches have been incredibly helpful and supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.
How are your sons Trevor (a junior) and Max (a freshman) adjusting?
Catlin Gabel is a great fit for Trevor and Max. They love it here; it reminds them of the school they attended for seven years in Taiwan. They will probably hate me talking about them, but CG has been a huge blessing for my boys. The individualized instruction is unmatched. I just attended my first parent-teacher conferences and was blown away. After just two-and-a-half months their teachers have my boys figured out. I also attended a couple of senior athletes’ conferences, and the general theme from parents was thankfulness. They appreciate the time teachers put into the kids. They know that CG has shaped the people their children have become. I couldn’t ask for more for my own boys.
What have you liked most about Catlin Gabel so far?
The school transforms lives. I have been most impressed by how the faculty treats each student as an individual and how well they know each child’s strengths and weaknesses. Teachers and staff work hard at building relationships with their students daily. I have never seen anything like this at any of the other schools I have worked at. Teachers are interested in many aspects of their student’s lives. It’s impressive to see so many faculty and staff members out watching extracurricular activities. I have also been impressed with the students. They are refreshingly polite, friendly, and selfless. They are always ready to lend a hand and pitch in, whether for service day, or just to help put away sports gear.