When former athletic director Paul Lueken retired at the start of 2021, it sent Slippery Rock into an immediate search to find someone to fill his shoes. It was a task that would be just as challenging as anticipated, as it’s hard to replace someone who brought so much success to the university, from the 39 PSAC championships on the field to the 3.064 GPA average from all athletic programs combined since he took over in 1994. However, in May, the Rock finally found their person in Dr. Roberta Page.
Page became the 14th athletic director in school history. Out of those 14, she is the first woman to hold the position. Page doesn’t think about that though, in fact she emphasized her hopes that this isn’t the first thing people think when they talk about her getting the job.
“I hope that [being a woman] isn’t the reason I got the job, and I wanted to be the person that they felt was in the best position to lead the department,” Page said.
Being the first woman to head the athletic department at SRU is a big accomplishment and something that young women can look up to. Page doesn’t only want to be a role model for women. She wants to show that anyone can get where they want to go with hard work, and it all starts somewhere.
For Page, she felt that her work started at SRU. She noted that she knew what she wanted to do from the time she was in high school, but her time at SRU put her on the path to accomplish her goals.
Page had her Michael Jordan moment her freshman year when she was cut from the women’s basketball team. Only a few years later, Page tried out again and made the team, and that drive is something that set her up to be exactly where she is now.
“I got cut my freshman year from the basketball team, and it really opened my eyes to ‘oh my god I failed,’ I really thought that I failed,” Page said. “I thought I failed myself, I felt I let my parents down a little bit and I felt like I let my high school coaches down a little bit. It made me work harder, and I didn’t give up.”
Her failures helped shape her mindset for life, in that it helped her understand that there are always going to be setbacks. Not everything you are going to attempt is going to be a success, but in those failures and setbacks you can always find positives.
“Reality of life is that we’re not going to get everything we want, but you have to continue to work hard to continue to get a little bit better,” Page said.
Page was a two-sport athlete at The Rock, playing softball along with basketball. She is still eighth in single-season triples for the softball team, from when she hit three in 1988. Being on those teams was integral to her success today because those teams held her accountable. She said that is what being a part of a team is about.
Page is no stranger to the athletic director position. She held the athletic director position at the high school level before finally moving to college where she was named associate athletic director at fellow PSAC school Shippensburg University. When the athletic director retired there, she was named the interim athletic director. At the time, she felt she wasn’t ready to take on the position. But soon, the interim tag would be removed from her.
“I was not ready to be the athletic director, I was the associate athletic director, and I was going back to school to obtain my doctorate, but the one thing I will never forget is my vice president and president having full support of me,” Page said. “They had so much confidence in me, that it gave me confidence to think I could do a good job if I got the [athletic director position].”
That confidence did transfer, and Page excelled in the position. Shippensburg won the PSAC’s Dixon Trophy three times during Page’s tenure. The trophy is given annually to the top overall athletic department. And Shippensburg had a three-peat under Page, winning it from 2003 to 2005. And the school was also runner-up twice, in 2006 and 2009. Under Page, Shippensburg earned 14 PSAC championships, two individual national titles and 60 All-Americans. Page and The Raiders accomplished all this in only six years.
In 2009, Page decided to move on after receiving a call in which she was asked to find some candidates for a position with the NCAA. After some consideration, she gave a call back expressing interest in the job.
“I went out and I interviewed, and I knew when I got there I knew it was going to be the greatest job I could have ever thought about having,” Page said. “I was called the director of championships, and my focus was on Division II.”
At that job, Page held a number of positions, including being the overseer of the committee that made all the decisions on championships. A big takeaway from her time there was that she noticed people didn’t compete with each other, they challenged each other, and it led to success.
“I often said there was only one other job I wanted, and that was to come home,” Page said. “When it opened up, I thought I’m either going to go for it now because I don’t know that it’ll be open again at a time when I’m interested in leaving, and the rest is history.”
Now in her first two months of being athletic director, Page is starting to settle in. As she’s settling in, she has made sure to make her own mark and do things her way. Lueken reached out and advised her to do so. In those talks, Lueken made sure to let her know not to do something just because he would have done it.
“A lot of people don’t like someone new coming in that they think they’re going to change things,” Page said. “Paul and I have talked numerous times and he said, ‘don’t do things because that’s the way we’ve always done them, do your own thing and be your own person.”’
The biggest thing that Page wants, is for people to be open to change. She wants to keep eyes on Slippery Rock by not only winning with class, but doing so in losses too. Page wants to bring her own identity but doesn’t want to do it in a way that “upsets the apple cart.”
“I think it’s important for me to have my own identity as long as people understand that my identity is always trying to continue to make us better,” Page said.
Last Thursday marked the start of the fall season, this being her first season as athletic director. Page couldn’t have asked for a better opening. The Rock had wins in almost every sport, with Rock football, men’s and women’s soccer and field hockey each securing a victory in the first weekend of games.
Through it all though, the message remains the same. Page wants to set all student athletes up for success and doesn’t want to compromise the way it’s done.
“I want our kids to succeed, but I want to do it the right way,” Page said.