A Winning Direction For The Athletic Department

On any given day of the week, Dr. Rhonda Hyatt can look out the window of her second floor office overlooking the Corsair Field and see her athletic department busy at work. She can see Coach Aaron Benditson lead his women's soccer team in practice. She can gaze down as conference-winning pole vaulter Eric White trains hard to make up for what he calls a lack of "natural talent."

When Santa Monica College athletes aren't using the field, she can watch neighboring community members run the track.

On a rainy Friday afternoon in late May, the only action on the field worth watching is a light drizzle watering the grass for what might be the last time before an artificial turf is installed this summer. Altogether, it's a very pleasant view.

The truth is, entering her fourth year as Director of Athletics at SMC, Dr. Hyatt doesn't have much time to stare out the window.

Luckily, she had just enough time to talk with The Corsair about some of the changes taking place this summer, and what it means to be an athletic director. Dr. Hyatt is 48 years old, but looks much younger. She commutes from Santa Clarita, where she lives with her husband and favorite dog, a springer spaniel named Rascal.

Ever the outdoors enthusiast, she enjoys hiking, gardening and biking. Growing up in Las Vegas, Hyatt played volleyball and softball, two sports she'd probably hope to see improve at SMC in the coming year. (The women's softball team has won only one of their last 59 games due to their season being cancelled.)

When discussing her duties as athletic director, Hyatt uses words like "cyclical," "routine" and "goes in phases." She says her department has done a good job of establishing a foundation, specifically with regard to core coaches holding positions that are normally a "revolving door" at two-year colleges like SMC.

At a four-year university like Cal State Northridge, where Hyatt spent six years as athletic director before coming to SMC, it's easier to retain star athletes. This is a big challenge for coaches at the community college level pursuing successful seasons. While certain sports have done well historically, like men's basketball, most teams tend to peak for only a few years when they have a particularly strong roster and enthusiastic coaching staff.

Hyatt says she's proud to work with the student athletes at SMC, citing a lack of contact with students as one of the negative aspects of her career change from trainer to athletic director while at CSUN.
Still, she attends every home game and oversees the eligibility requirements, which puts her in frequent contact with students. When asked about the Corsair Field, which gets handed over to contractors on June 1 to begin the transition to artificial turf, Hyatt mentions several advantages. The new turf, which should take three to four months to install, will require far less maintenance than the current natural grass.

In addition to landscaping, natural turf requires re-lining for football, and soccer- artificial turf doesn't. This also means the field will be available for more classes, and for community rental. She expects to see at least two more soccer classes a week on the field thanks to the new turf. Statistics often improve for athletes that play on artificial turf at home, due to increased speed.

As for disadvantages, Hyatt doesn't expect many. In the past, football players and other student athletes unfamiliar with artificial turf have gotten injured more when they did play on it. Most are now accustomed to it, however, as nearly every other school in the Western State Conference is using it. So who's paying for it?

Most of the funding comes from Measure S, a $135-million bond that was approved in November of 2004 and "designed to upgrade and enhance facilities."

This funding will also be used to renovate the locker rooms and the bleachers in the gymnasium. The new bleachers will be mechanized, expanding and contracting with the push of a button. With perma-painted fields and effortlessly folded bleachers, it might seem like the custodians have nothing to do. "Don't worry about the workload," says Hyatt. "There's still plenty of work to do on this campus."

As the interview draws to an end, Hyatt picks up a small box sitting on her desk. It's a four-leaf clover, enclosed in glass, given to her by a colleague. Does it work? "I like to think so," she says, as the clover shifts to the bottom from movement. "The problem is, my luck is sliding," she says with a laugh.

While there's nothing overtly superstitious in her demeanor, she shakes the clover to the top anyway.
After all, it's going to be a busy summer. If there is a plant god, this might be a bad time to upset it.