BY Jim Fenton
The former women's basketball coach and director of athletics had a succesful run at the school since 1971.
Paula Sullivan was
teaching in the Milton school system and she was interested in
becoming a basketball coach as well.
Stonehill College was looking to
start a women’s basketball program and was searching for a
Using some inside information,
Sullivan found out about the opportunity and pursued the basketball
“My sister, Mary Ellen, was a
student at Stonehill at the time,’’ recalled Sullivan.
“She said, ‘I know you love basketball and
they’re looking for a women’s coach here. Why
don’t you call?’
“I don’t even remember
who I called and they said, ‘Oh, you want the job? Here it
With that, Paula Sullivan was
connected with Stonehill College, and it the beginning of an
association that would last a very long time.
Now, after being employed at
Stonehill for 43 years, first as a coach and then an administrator,
Sullivan is retiring this week, walking away from the campus she
has been such an important part of since the 1971-72 women’s
“My sister, whenever she can,
acknowledges that she was responsible for my career,’’
says Sullivan with a laugh.
And what a career it was for
Sullivan, who spent 25 seasons coaching the Stonehill women’s
basketball team, then 12 years as the director of athletics and the
past six years as the vice president for intercollegiate athletics
and recreation sports.
Her basketball teams went 479-159 with 10 trips to the NCAA
Division 2 tournament, making it to the national semifinal round in
The Stonehill athletics department
reached new heights under Sullivan’s watch as the AD with new
facilities and improved programs before she moved into a new role
“To have that tenure and that
loyalty at an institution, it’s unique,’’ said
Brendan Sullivan, Stonehill’s director of
athletics. “It’s been pretty tremendous. Paula was the
architect of the success here.
“I hope in my career, if I
can look and say that I can even be remotely compared to Paula
Sullivan, I would consider it an outstanding success. Forty-three
years of doing anything is a long time, but it goes back to the
passion she has for it.
“Without that, people would
burn out and she has not.’’
The women’s basketball
program was built from the ground up by Paula Sullivan, who ranks
14th all-time in Division 2 with a .751 winning percentage.
The team went from humbling
beginnings to the national stage on Sullivan’s watch, once
coming within just two wins of a NCAA title.
“When I started coaching, the
NCAA hadn’t absorbed women’s athletics and we played
anyone because there were no divisions,’’ said
Sullivan. “We played Boston College, WPI, all divisions. It
was an interesting time.
“The first couple of years,
we played up in Alumni Hall. The sideline was almost the wall.
There was a little balcony on one end, which I don’t know how
sturdy that was, but basically the few fans we had circled the
The Title IX law, which provided
better opportunities for women’s sports, started changing
things in the 1980s.
Sullivan found it difficult to
leave coaching in April 1996, departing the bench in favor of
assistant Kelly Hart to run the athletics department following the
death of Ray Pepin.
“The first couple of years
were very challenging because I loved coaching,’’ said
Sullivan. “But I really looked forward to the challenge of
leading an athletic department as well.
“That might be the one thing
I’m most proud of that we were able to improve the experience
for all of us and the student-athletes. It took a while and with
the help of many who played their part, but I think we got it
Sullivan pointed to the former
Stonehill president Rev. Mark T. Creegan and current president Rev.
John Denning for helping the athletics department grow in the past
decade and a half.
Stonehill now has a superb facility
in W.B. Mason Stadium and is among the top Northeast-10 Conference
programs on an annual basis.
Paula Sullivan helped put Stonehill
athletics on the map, first with her coaching and then as an
administrator, and it was a ride she will never forget.
“I was extremely fortunate to
spend my career in one spot,’’ said Sullivan.
“It’s unheard of in this day and age. But this is a
very special place. It’s a community. It’s a family.
“I’ve been blessed in
athletics with the folks I’ve worked with. I would do
anything for them and they would do anything for me. They truly
care about our kids. It’s not all about their egos as
coaches. They truly care that our kids have a great experience in
the classroom, that they compete and that they are good people.
“I had some opportunities to
leave through the years and I did some soul searching a couple of
major times. It came down to, I like my life, I loved this school
and I was happy here.
“I love the Division 2 model
and you can’t beat the people here. They care about you as a
person. You’re just not a figure head who can move in an move
out. It’s so different. People always think the grass is
greener, but it wasn’t.
“The games were fun and we
had some memorable times, like the opening of our stadium, A lot of
fine and wonderful things happened, but I’ll miss the people
Jim Fenton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.