Heart in the Game
Sara Lillevand Judd Takes Pioneer Athletics to the Next Level
BY LINDA CHILDERS ’85
With the discerning eye of a jeweler, Cal State East Bay Athletics Director Sara LILLEVAND Judd has the innate ability to see unlimited potential in student-athletes. When she meets with players from each of the university’s sports teams, she sees more than just star softball pitchers and outstanding soccer goalies. She also sees the next generation of leaders.
Judd, who enjoyed her own distinguished collegiate basketball career, playing first at Stanford and then at UC Davis, joined CSUEB 17 years ago. She served as head women's basketball coach and senior associate athletics director for compliance, as well as senior women's administrator, before assuming her current role. Her goal, one she shares with her coaches, is to help students excel at both athletics and academics. Sometimes that means first helping them to realize their own potential.
“Many of our athletes are first-generation college students who are here with the help of scholarships,” Judd says. “Their athletic abilities and grades helped them get to the University, and our goal is to ensure they stay on track.”
Students such as Jarred Jourdan, a junior at CSUEB majoring in recreation management, epitomize the new type of college students who are juggling studies with work and family commitments. The 26-year-old Oakland native will be the first in his family to graduate from college, and hopes to be a role model for his own four-year-old daughter.
“To be able to attend college full time and play basketball, without worrying about how I would pay for my education, has helped me tremendously,” Jourdan says. “All of my coaches and professors are very supportive. Many have young children themselves, so they understand the challenges of being a parent as well as a student-athlete.”
Judd says students such as Jourdan were the motivation behind her work to oversee CSUEB's move from a non-scholarship program to one that exceeds the minimum of $250,000 in athletic financial aid. At the same time, she and her staff had to bring the program into compliance with NCAA Division II rules for scheduling, recruiting, scholarships and eligibility.
“I have a three-point mission: to see our student-athletes graduate, to win championships and to encourage our students to engage in the community,” Judd says. “When our student-athletes leave CSUEB, we want them to be able to participate in a positive way in their communities and to be able to successfully navigate life outside of school.”
To that extent, Judd and her coaches heavily emphasize community involvement and volunteerism. The CSUEB Read with the Pioneers program encourages children in local schools to commit to a certain number of hours of reading. Students who meet the goal are invited to the Hayward campus to see an athletic event and to meet with
the players. Judd herself has been actively involved in local youth sports as a volunteer coach. She has coached 26 different basketball, soccer and baseball teams in her local community over the past six years.
“The Read with the Pioneers program gives local K-12 students the chance to not only view a game on campus, but to get a sense of the University and to meet with the players, whom many of the kids see as role models,” Judd says. In addition, student-athletes are encouraged to volunteer in the community, and have assisted in such community engagement projects as Swim for Wishes, park cleanups, Special Olympics events, and raising money for the Make-a-Wish® Foundation and other charitable organizations.
“Sara believes in impressing upon our student-athletes the need to be good role models,” says Suzy Barcomb, head women’s basketball coach at CSUEB. “They earn the right to wear their team’s uniform, and even when they are off campus they need to represent both themselves and the college in the best possible way.”
Judd’s leadership skills and commitment to student-athletes haven’t gone unnoticed. Last year, she received the 2013 Division II Administrator of the Year award by the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA).
“Sara is an excellent role model for our student-athletes and a leader among her peers,” says former CSUEB Director of Athletics Debby De Angelis, who nominated Judd for the award. “She’s an athlete, coach, senior administrator, mother, cancer survivor and now the director of athletics for Cal State East Bay. It was my honor to nominate the best woman I know as Division II Administrator of the Year.”
For students such as Zuly Diaz, 23, a soccer player who graduated from CSUEB in 2013, Judd is also a role model in her own right. Diaz, who grew up in Richmond Calif., has always wanted to be a physical therapist, a career path that Judd herself pursued. Judd received her master’s degree in physical therapy from Boston University, before being recruited to serve as an assistant coach at UC Davis, then at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
“I worked hard in school because I knew that receiving an athletic scholarship would be the only way I would be able to attend college,” Diaz says. “I grew not only as a player at CSUEB but also as a student. The coaching staff encouraged us to be the best we could be both on and off the field.”
In addition to her scholarship, Diaz worked while attending CSUEB to pay for her books and rent. And, although her grades were good, she regularly attended study hall.
“I learned never to settle for anything other than my absolute best,” Diaz says. “Sara Judd and my coaches encouraged me and supported me, and also taught me that if you work hard enough, anything is possible.”