Coming Full Circle

Athletics Director Kate Williams ’01 values what Catlin Gabel gave to her as a student—and wants to give back

“When I was a student here, everyone hung out down at the gym,” recalls Catlin Gabel’s new Athletics Director, Kate Williams ’01. “That’s where you went for your free periods. And after school, you went to the gym or the fields to watch the games. There was a lot of energy and excitement around athletics.”

Support, Encouragement, and a Sense of Belonging

As she develops her long-range plans to build upon the excellence of the athletics program, those positive experiences now inform her approach. A multi-sport athlete in her Catlin student days—she played on four championship varsity girls soccer teams and spent four years on the basketball squad—Kate was serious about academics as well, and felt supported in all of her pursuits. “My emphasis on relationships was fostered at Catlin,” Kate says, “where coaches and teachers cared about me as a whole person, not just the results I had on the field or court.”

For the same reason, she thrived in her undergraduate years at Wheaton College, a Division III school in Norton, Massachusetts, where she majored in sociology and played four years on the basketball team. A major influence at Wheaton was her coach, whose relationship-based approach to athletics inspired Kate to stay on for an additional three years as assistant coach.

A Natural Transition to the Social Work Field

Kate’s interest in relationship-building and collaboration led her to the Master’s in Social Work program at Boston College. She spent the next eight years at therapeutic day schools in Massachusetts and Clackamas County, working with children along the autism spectrum and with other kinds of emotional dysregulation neurodevelopmental issues. “The social work field was a natural fit,” Kate says. “In those types of teaching environments, you really must trust one another. And that confirmed for me how important relationships are within the work setting. It was somewhat similar in coaching: You’re trying to support everyone and help them grow in different ways.”

The Return to Catlin Gabel

While she was a social worker, Kate continued coaching basketball on the side, and she made the move back to athletics full-time when she returned to Catlin as Head Coach for girls basketball in 2014. She became Assistant Athletics Director in 2018. Over the past school year, she served as Interim Athletics Director, sustaining athletics by implementing virtual curriculum, helping coaches coordinate complex on-campus practices, and navigating shifts in OSAA competition schedules.

By any measure, the 2020-21 season was a success, providing a much-needed, healthy outlet for hundreds of Catlin students, including many who returned to campus for practices during inclement winter weather. Students and coaches embraced our school’s competitive spirit as well, winning titles in soccer, track and field, volleyball, cross country, tennis, and basketball (see details, pages 8-9).

At the end of the school year, Kate was named permanent Athletics Director for Catlin Gabel. She’ll continue to coach the girls’ varsity basketball team, she says, because she enjoys working with students directly and sees value in maintaining an on-the-court perspective.

New Programming for Student-Athletes

Kate’s experiences as a student-athlete, coach, social worker, and athletics administrator—and the parent of two Beginning and Lower Schoolers—all contribute to her vision for a renewed and expanded athletics program at Catlin Gabel. And with every change she advocates, her primary goal is preparing students for life beyond Catlin Gabel.

“We do a good job of preparing our student-athletes with the tools and skills they need to be healthy for life,” she says, “but we can do more. I want to provide programming for student-athletes around nutrition, sports psychology, and performance anxiety. I hope to introduce strength and conditioning classes. When students leave here, they should know how to take care of their mind, body, and emotions. We say here at Catlin that we want lifelong learners, and athletics should be a part of that.”

Incorporating Lower Grades into the Program

About expanding the athletics program, Kate says, “I would love to see athletics in the Beginning and Lower School. I think it’s a natural fit and can provide our younger students with physical movement while also building a sense of community. And that can align with our mission and our values of kindness, integrity, and inclusion.”

Making Athletics More Inclusive

Based on the positive experience she had as a student, she is committed to making the athletics program more inviting to students of all levels—including those who are not particularly interested in competition. “Participation on a team is really positive for students’ mental, physical, and emotional health,” Kate says. “I would like to see more students come down and engage in athletics in whatever way makes sense to them, whether they’re a high-level athlete, or more interested in the socialization piece, or just getting physically fit. Whatever your skill level, you can have a spot.

“It’s important to me that everyone who comes to athletics is greeted by their name and with a smile,” Kate says. “That’s essential in creating the athletic environment that we want for all students here. We’re going to work on that. We’re going to make sure that everyone feels included and welcomed.”