California-born and successful Softball player Monica Lebron decided to pursue a career in college Athletics. With careful planning, hard work and determination, she made a smooth and successful transition from Collegiate Softball to College Athletics Administration.
Where are you from and where did you go to school?
I am from San Jose, California and I was recruited to play softball at Yale. I was on financial aid at Yale.
Did you get into Yale through Softball?
I was being recruited by Yale, Princeton, Stanford and South Carolina. I didn’t get into Stanford nor Princeton but I got into Yale and South Carolina. At the time, my older sister insisted I went to Yale and convinced me and my parents this was the opportunity of a lifetime.
I believe you have to work when you are on financial aid at Yale?
When you are on financial aid, you have to work an on-campus job. I could have worked in the dining hall or in the computer lab but my coach called me and asked if I wanted to work for the Athletic Director. I said “sure, I don’t know what an Athletic Director does but I will be there the first day”. The requirement was 10 hours per week paid minimally. By semester’s end, I sat with the Athletic Director and ask him: “ok, how do I become you?”
Are you an Athletic Director now?
I am the Deputy Athletic Director at Tulane University in Greater New Orleans in Louisiana. I have been chasing the dream of becoming an Athletic Director ever since that meeting with Mr. Beckett – Yale’s Athletic Director at the time. I am grateful for my parents because they never questioned what I wanted to do. They always supported me 100% throughout my upbringing and my career so I always believed in myself because the two most important people in my life did.
How influential was Mr. Beckett for your career?
Mr. Beckett became my first mentor. Early on, he suggested that, instead of going home during the summer, I should do an internship. I ended working all four years in the Yale Athletic Department. I turned my 10 hours into 20 weekly hours. I worked every home football game, every home hockey game and anything they would ask me to do. I admit a little bit of it was luck but then I worked hard.
Did you know what you wanted to do prior to going to Yale?
No, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I was one of those people who was interested in everything. But when I started watching the Yale Athletic Director, I decided this was what I wanted to do. I was lucky because It fell in my lap at a younger age than most. Usually you start taking a specific direction at 22 when you are about to graduate.
Did you study sport and sport management at Yale?
No, because Yale does not have that type of curriculum. I had no idea what I wanted to study. I took an Econ class and I hated it! I took a psychology class and almost failed. But then I took this Women’s Health class and literally fell in love with it. I wanted to do the reading and I wanted to pay attention. So then I tried Intro to Women and Gender study and fell in love with that too. The good thing with Yale is that you don’t have to declare your major until the end of your sophomore year. It is almost as if they allow you to create your own curriculum which was perfect for me. I didn’t have any sport management classes which is why the AD recommended to do summer internships and have real work experiences.
Where did you intern?
I went to live with my sister in Michigan and did my first summer internship at the University of Michigan. I worked for one of the Associate’s Athletic Director who also became my mentor. I looked at this experience as a privilege. I got to train and play with the softball team at Michigan, I lived with my sister and enjoyed Ann Arbour.
How did this internship fit in with your athletic collegiate training requirements?
I played softball at Yale all four years. I trained year-round and played the season in the spring. In the summer, Yale didn’t require any training but I liked to stay in shape and this is why I enjoyed training with the Michigan players.
Is there a professional league for Softball?
There is but I don’t know much about it. It was starting right when I was finishing college. I could have played in it but I was not interested. I wanted to start my administrative career so I always knew Softball was coming to an end.
Did you do another internship during your four years in college?
I went to intern at the University of Washington my junior year and spent the summer in Seattle. One of my closest friends was on the softball team there so I trained with the team too. I got to work under one of the few female Athletic Director at the time, Barbara Hedges.
What did you do after graduation?
During the second semester of my senior year, I started thinking about my options after college: work, graduate school. I decided to go straight to graduate school. I chose Ohio University because it is the number one sport administration program in the country. I ended up in Athens, Ohio for the next two years. I got my MBA the first year and then a summer internship at Stanford. The next year, I went back to Ohio for my master in sport administration. I also worked as the graduate assistant in development.
What did you do after graduation?
I applied for the NCAA internship and was selected with 10 other interns. I moved to Indianapolis to work for the NCAA and then got my first job at the University of Florida in Development.
What other positions have you held between then and now?
The rest of my career was in development and fundraising. I was in development for four years at the University of Florida. I was in fundraising for four years at Cal. I moved to oversee major gifts for Ole Miss for three years. And I oversaw all of development at Georgia for 13 months. I thought I would be at Georgia for three-five years. But then I got a call from a search firm asking if I would be interested in the Deputy Athletic Director position at Tulane University. I said “sure yes, but in three years, not now, I just got here”. Six days later, the Athletic Director called me directly asking me to reconsider and he specified that the position also included overseeing Football. The Athletic Director at Georgia supported me for this position. Moving to Tulane was the best decision I could have ever made.
I am amazed at how many places you have lived at and the possible network you have created.
Yes, I have lived in ten states. The best thing is I have friends all over the country. The hard part is that you have to start all over again every time. I am a routine driven individual so every time I have to set everything up again.
You told us about school and athletics. Tell us about your childhood and how you got into sports.
I am the youngest of three girls. So a lot of my childhood came down to following my older sister of seven years. She has always been my idol. She started playing softball first and I couldn’t grow up fast enough to be just like her. I wanted to do what she was doing. We played multiple sports. My parents never made us choose. So I played soccer, volleyball and softball. We were always doing something and never got bored or burned out.
You don’t have a typical softball player physique.
Yes, I am not your normal typical softball player especially considering I played first base. I played first base until 14 and under and then everyone grew and I didn’t so I was moved to outfield. When I got to Yale, we didn’t have a first baseman. I kept begging my coach to let me play that position. But he kept saying I was too little. Fourteen games into the first season, he told me “ok you are starting at first base but you got one shot”. And I played that position the rest of my career. I had told my teammates: “if you throw the ball over my head, that is your fault but if you throw the ball in the dirt and I miss it, it is on me so, if you are going to miss, miss low.” And my teammates adjusted. They never threw the ball over my head.
Did you have any other interests or hobbies?
I was always into Performing Arts. In 6th, 7th and 8th grade, I made the high school play and loved it. I would have done it all four years in high school except for the fact that it was during softball season and I had to choose. I always chose sports. Even early on, I did ballet and missed the recital because I had T-ball. I have always been into singing and dancing and always choreographed dances for our school. I even auditioned for American idol in 2004.
You auditioned for American Idol?!!
Yes, I did , it was in 2004. I was at University of Florida. They had just extended the maximum age limit. So I thought this was a sign. I took two days off work. I waited in line for 31 hours at the Orlando Convention Center by myself. And then I 30 seconds to perform and then they said “Thanks but no thanks”. It was anti-climactic and I went back to work the next Monday. I am glad I can say I tried though.
How was the transition from sport to work?
My transition was probably smoother than most. I knew I wasn’t going pro. I was lucky that 30 were on my graduate school class so it felt like a team. When I finished school and went to the internship, there were 11 of us so I was on another team again. My rudest awakening was at the University of Florida, my first job, where everybody already had their clicks and I wasn’t coming in as a team. It was just me so I had to make friends or be on my own. Those four months were the worst four months I ever experience in college athletics. It was miserable and I didn’t like it. I was looking for it to be negative and I was expecting people not to understand me. And sure enough, I found what I was looking for. What I learned later once I got settled and finally fell in love with the people of Gainesville is that you control your own mind. If you are looking for negative you will find negative and if you are looking for positive you will find positive. Following that experience, I moved to different locations with a much more open mind and ready to enjoy the experience. And I blame myself for my Florida experience early on.
Do you still practice softball?
I played recreationally on co-ed teams everywhere I lived after college. But Tulane is the first place I haven’t found a team.
Have you ever been injured in your life?
A turning point in my life was when I tore my Achilles in 2016 a few months after starting at Georgia. I had never been injured in my life. I had never been sidelined for anything. And then suddenly at 36, I realized I couldn’t do something. The day the doctor confirmed I needed surgery, I had tears running down my face. But things happen for a reason. I was a workaholic, I was not integrating balance and I wasn’t going to stop. So this slowed me down and I had to re-adjust.
Do you do a lot of different sports outside of softball?
I like to stay active. I work out in the mornings. I do a TRX class, I do yoga, I run once or twice per week. I try to mix it up. I am actually signed up for a marathon in a few months. In 2006, I ran a marathon in four hours and two minutes. I had the goal to run under four hours and I missed it by two minutes so this will be my goal this time.
What have you learned from your sporting career?
Team sports taught me a lot of life lessons from working together towards a common goal to interacting with people with different personalities, or bringing people together from all walks of life together. Almost everything I do at work has to do with interacting with other people. I take what I have learned from my teams into those situations. I believe in team sports. I believe they help you adapt to most things in life and I am grateful I am still part of it. It is harder now that I am not an athlete and I don’t have full control. I can set up the environment for success but I can’t control the outcome.
Do you feel you went into athletics so that you could continue living your passion for sports?
Yes, I remember thinking about the Athletic Director my first year in college: “so you get paid to do your job so that me and all the student-athletes can have the best experience possible in college? Someone actually pays you for that?” It inspired me to do the same thing. This is why I race to work every day and I can’t wait to go to work. I live at work and spend a lot of time here.
You are very excited about life and work, do you feel that you are too much for people? We hear often that retired athletes have so much energy and motivation, it turns people off?
I do get complimented for my passion and energy and people feed off it. But I can improve and I have heard from others that I have to back off sometimes. I can’t expect people to be just like me. I do want everyone at my speed but I also need to learn to accept people at their own speed as well.
How do you fit in personal life?
I get asked this question a lot especially by young women in the industry. “Do as I say not as I do” is what I tell them. I can’t say I have balance. I want to believe that if I had a family member seating at home, I would leave the office at five or six. But because I don’t, why am I going to sit on the couch when I have things to do in the office? I don’t tend to force relaxation on myself but I have gotten better at making time if someone or something presents itself. I have definitely made time for friends and family. When I was 30, I lost my best friend in a plane crash. That made me realize I needed to start enjoying life now because it could be gone tomorrow. Since then, I made a commitment to incorporate one of my favorite hobbies which is travel.
What are your other interests outside of sports?
I love food, eating out and discovering new restaurants and I get to do that a lot here because friends and family come to visit New Orleans for that reason. I also love to travel and to experience new places. I went to Italy with my mum two summers ago and loved it. I loved the food. This summer, I didn’t travel because I studied for my PhD but I am planning a trip to New Zealand and Australia this coming summer.
When did you start your higher education and what is your PhD about?
I started higher education at Ole Miss and I transferred to Georgia. I transferred again to Tulane and am currently working on my dissertation which is: “Looking at the low number of ethnic minority and female Athletic Directors at Division I Level”. I am hoping to graduate in May.
Are you still in touch with your teammates and your coaches?
Yes, I am still in touch with my teammates. Social media helps quite a bit. I am also on the Yale Softball Alumni Board so we interact a lot via email. Our head coach passed away but our assistant coach is still on staff and we are in touch. Sadly, I don’t get to campus as often as I would like but I absolutely keep in touch with my teammates and we do regular reunions in different places around the country.
How do you define success and are you successful?
I believe I am 100% successful but how do I define the success? Happiness. I am happy waking up every day. I am happy with all the thing God has blessed me with. I am happy to be healthy, I am happy that I am driven and that I have the ability to set goals and the drive to accomplish them. I feel I have accomplished a lot and still have a lot left in me.