On Oct. 13 Valerie Cleary officially took over as interim athletics director of Portland State. She replaced Torre Chisholm, whose seven and a half years at the helm were the longest in PSU history. The search committee for a new AD has already begun the process to find the new permanent leader for PSU athletics. In the meantime, Cleary will head up the Vikings program with a busy future ahead.
Chisholm will most likely be remembered for Vikings Pavilion, the multimillion-dollar arena/event space which has been in the works for years, but still without a groundbreaking date. Progress on the building is being handled by top administrators from the athletic department, now Cleary.
“[Chisholm’s] done some fantastic things here,” Cleary said. “Even though it hasn’t come to fruition yet, the pavilion project is huge, just getting that off the ground. I’ll be really excited when there’s a mound of dirt and a shovel outside. We are still generating those last funds and making sure we have the plans in place, so once those funds are secured we can get to work as soon as possible.”
Cleary started her tenure at PSU last year as associate athletic director and senior woman administrator. Before her time at PSU, she worked extensively in the athletic departments for several collegiate programs, including Boise State, Pacific University and Cal State Fullerton.
While only in the top spot of PSU athletics for a little over a week, Cleary has already noticed changes in her role and outlook.
“I think I have to look at things a little bit more critically than I did before when I wasn’t directly involved,” Cleary said. “There’s a lot more meetings, that’s for sure. People bringing me up to date on things I might not have been involved in the last year.”
When asked if she was interested in becoming the full time athletic director for PSU, Cleary responded that she is not applying for the position.
“I really like my role as the senior woman administrator here, it allows me to do a lot more things internally which is where I gain my energy, being around the student athletes,” Cleary said.
She does believe that she can offer a unique and representative perspective to high- level conversations.
“I think I add a different element when I’m the lone woman and probably minority in any given meeting on any given day. I think it enhances the lens I look through,” Cleary said.
A 2011 report states that of the 120 Division 1 athletic programs, only five have female athletic directors.
Cleary is not only an athletic administrator, she’s also a fan. Sports are a big part of her personal as well as professional life. Cleary’s husband Tim is the head basketball coach for Pacific University and both their children are student athletes.
“I was not a student athlete, so I think what they do is just amazing, on any given day. It’s amazing. I’m just a sports fan. I just like watching people compete and doing what they love to do,”Cleary said.
Every athletic director at a major college must confront the issue of student athletes being paid. Cleary identifies likeness rights in video games as one area which may need to be addressed, but overall has not worked at places where these kind of talks are taken too seriously.
“I think the schools that I have worked for haven’t ever been in the position where we are generating the revenue to pay student athletes,” Cleary said. “I think it’s a fine line between what’s the college experience [and] what’s fair to them as a person versus entering into that professional sect. There’s so many pros and cons to each side of the argument, but it’s never been a hot topic at any of the schools I’ve worked at.”
One initiative Cleary saw at a previous school she would like to try at PSU is Teams for Teams. It encouraged players from all sports to support their fellow teams and attend games. Cleary would even like to expand the idea to include the entire campus. The way she sees it, PSU athletics has a lot to offer the university community and vice versa.
“Athletics cannot operate in a silo. We can’t, and that’s not our function. Whether that’s encouraging our student athletes to carve out time to go to speaker series’ or different clubs and organizations based on their majors, but then also to encourage those students to come out to the games. I think they’re doing some great things. How can you resist Get Stuffed? It’s free food! That’s like every college students dream, right? Show up, be fed and entertained.”