Women rock The Rock

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: March 24, 2022
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The phone in the back corner of the office rings. Slippery Rock Athletic Director answers the phone with a simple, yet very positive, “Hi, how are you doing?” Over the next several minutes, she’ll pace around her office. It’s not very big, but it’s large enough to put the phone on speaker and just walk around.

She hates to sit. Her desk can only be used when she’s standing. She still has a chair, but it’s just there, and, most of the time, it just holds a backpack.

It’s all part of her mindset. It’s one like no other. In a way, it’s like when she’s sitting down, she feels that there’s something she could be doing to help better Slippery Rock. There’s always something she can do to be improving. That’s how she looks at it.

Progress is something that Roberta Page has been around long enough to see. Page used to be a student here. Matter of fact, she used to be a two-sport athlete. The energy here used to a be a little different though.

“[We’ve] absolutely made progress and you always want progress, and I don’t mean this as a knock on anyone, but I knew who our athletic director was and I don’t feel like I could go up to his office and feel like he knew who I was,” Page said. “I’m not saying he didn’t have an interest, but as we’ve progressed, I get the opportunity to interact with [the student athletes] in a different way than we did 30 plus years ago.”

Approachability makes all the difference in the world. Especially when it was at a premium back when Page was a student. That has helped her start to create an atmosphere on campus that has never been seen before.

Slippery Rock is a very big football school. That’s easy to see. The team averaged right around 7,500 fans in the stands for each home game. But the focus is never solely on football.

“Football is big, because you’re playing under the lights on a Saturday night sometimes, football is always going to be football,” Page said. “But I love the fact that we have a lot of student and parental support for our women’s sports, and I wish we could even get more.”

Page dreams of seeing Morrow Field House packed to the gills for something such as a volleyball game. That change would make Page even prouder of what has started to be created here.

Throughout the fall and spring semester thus far, the football team has been trying to help kick start that. They’ve been choosing home games for each team and been coming to the games in masses. They create a home environment that is difficult to play in for opposing teams, as women’s sports games typically do not get as much attention.

Take the Slippery Rock versus Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) women’s basketball game. Just one week prior, there no fans allowed to attend the game against California University of Pennsylvania (Cal-U). Seven days later, 601 people attended the IUP game, and it was louder than it had been for quite some time. The goal is to create that type of home field advantage that teams like men’s basketball, football and baseball get.

“Football recognizes that some of those sports teams don’t get a lot of fans, so they’ve made it a dedicated effort to go to a game for each team,” Page said. “[They do it] so that those ladies know what it’s like to play in front of those large crowds.”

Page feels that women have definitely gained a lot of attention in just her first year here.

“I’m extremely proud of Slippery Rock, as athletic director I don’t focus more one sport than I do another, but we don’t treat any sport differently because they’re all equally important,” Page said.

Equal treatment. It’s talked about everywhere, but in a lot of places has still never been fully accomplished. Everywhere has room to grow, but last fall Page felt that steps were taken.

Homecoming is a day that is focused on football almost everywhere you go. It is at Slippery Rock too, but it’s not the only thing that people focus on here at The Rock. In 2021, there four teams playing on homecoming day. It was rainy day, and yet each team had nearly packed stands.

“Some schools don’t do homecoming around football, they’ll say, ‘Okay we’re going to have ours around a women’s soccer game,’ so there’s not always that stigma that it has to be around football,” Page said. “What we try to do on homecoming day is [advertise every sport], not just football and we also name homecoming royalty.”

Women play a big role in the sports on campus. Among the longest tenured coaches on campus is Laurie Lokash, the women’s volleyball head coach, who has been at The Rock for nearly 40 years. Even in the past few years, The Rock has had an infuse of youth when it comes to women coaches on campus.

“We have two opposite ends of the spectrum, we have coaches who have been here a long time, but we’re now starting to get that group of coaches that this is maybe their third, fourth or fifth year of coaching,” Page said. “I’m extremely proud of them because they relate to the student athletes in different ways.”

One of those coaches who is bringing that different perspective in is lacrosse head coach Taryn Burkholder. Thus far, under the interim tag Burkholder has helped The Rock get out to a 5-2 record in the early stretch of the spring season.

Coaches like Burkholder are people that Page thinks will aide to create a better environment to help shape young women.

“Coach Burkholder is a great example, she does have the interim tag, but she has come in with such intensity and enthusiasm that it’s fed down to those women on the lacrosse team,” Page said. “Those women are on fire right now, and all you have to do is look at their body language and demeanor, they love being around her.”

For every team, Page wants SRU to be a welcoming environment that lures in prospect student athletes.

“I want this place to be a destination, whether it’s to be a coach or a student athlete, I want them to think ‘I want to go to Slippery Rock,’” Page said. “I want to create that atmosphere that people want to be a part of, and I want to instill to them that they will be supported.”

In the past, Page has said to The Rocket that she doesn’t want to be viewed any different as the athletic director. Regardless, having the position undoubtedly comes with people who look up to her. She wants to be an inspiration to anyone who might see her this way.

“It’s flattering to think that someone might be looking up to me as a female, but if I was given a chance to say anything to anyone, it’s that women have been given a seat at the table and they need to use that and be their authentic selves,” Page said. “I don’t want anyone to put a woman at the table just to say our meeting had a woman, we want women because we want and value their voice.”

That voice is something that Page hopes to give to young women while in her position. Positivity is another thing she’s very big on. If you step into her office and say something negative, have a quarter ready to put in the negativity jar that sits on the meeting table by where you walk in.

To all the females who look up to her, look at what she’s done and where she is, she has a simple message.

“Be you,” Page said. “Be your true self and, when you’re at the table, use your voice to promote what you believe in.”

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Tyler Howe
Tyler is a junior communication major with a concentration in converged journalism. He’s in his third year with Rocket and it’s his second semester as assistant sports editor. Through his first two years, he wrote nearly 70 articles. The majority of which have been for the sports section, but he has also written for campus life.

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