Back on the Track: Lee Anne Patterson ’85

Back on the Track: Lee Anne Patterson ’85

You’ve never been to a race, have you?”

It’s a question posed with humor by Lee Anne Patterson ’85, but she’s quick to forgive. Despite a career in professional racing spanning three decades, encompassing almost every position at a whole range of levels, there was a time when she was the new girl—or, on many occasions, the only girl—at the racetrack.

But after rising through racing’s ranks to run her own racing team, Patterson is helping to take a crew of Auburn student engineers to the promised land—Indianapolis Motor Speedway—to compete in the Indy Autonomous Challenge.

It’s a fast industry, and though it’s a labor of love, it takes time bringing everyone up to speed.

“We have very, very, very hard deadlines,” said Patterson from her home in Auburn. “You can’t show up on Sunday at four o’clock and say ‘I’m ready to race’—the green flag drops at noon. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t get back from the last race until midnight. Your stuff has to be ready and on that truck.”

Lee Anne Patterson '85 @ IMS Speedway
Lee Anne Patterson ’85

Patterson got involved with motorsports the old fashioned way—through rock n’ roll radio. As the “Continuity chick” for Atlanta’s 96 Rock, she wrote commercials and did voiceover work—a side job she still does—but found her real calling in promotions and sponsorship.

“I fell in love with promotions, because promotions is the art of making somebody’s day. You give them tickets, they win money, you can pull people together to build a Vietnam veteran memorial for Georgia, which we did at 96 Rock, so you can do really great things with it.”

Wanting to work as a Promotions Director, she got her chance at the Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) in California. “It could have been pet poodle farming and I would have gone, because it was California,” she said. “My very first job was to introduce NASCAR’s Winston Cup to the San Francisco Bay area, and I had never seen a race.”

She had help from Bob Weeks, an associate of NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France Sr., who geared her up to give her first pit tours. What she lacked in experience she made up for in enthusiasm, while her “exotic” southern accent thrilled out-of-town guests. Patterson had a gift for making friends, too—on her media day, she ran into someone who looked lost.

“I said, ‘Can I help you?’ He goes, ‘I’m Michael Waltrip…I’m a driver.’ I had no clue.  Then when I’m giving the tour, guess who comes out of the hauler? I go, ‘ladies and gentlemen, this is driver Michael Waltrip!’ He looks at me like ‘you’re so full of it,’ but he comes over and gives me this big bear hug, and instant credibility.”

Pit Tour with driver Eliseo Salazar, 1999
Pit Tour with driver Eliseo Salazar, 1999

Patterson spent two years at Sears Point, promoting 48 events a year that included not only NASCAR events but other motorsports competitions, giving her a world-class education on racing events and promotions. She was then asked by Carroll Shelby, godfather of the Cobra and Ford Mustang, to be his series director for the Dodge Shelby Pro Series for a season.

Along the way, Patterson got married and went to Indianapolis to build a race team. Her then-husband was in charge of the vehicle’s performance and the crew, while she took over as team manager and handled everything else. For the next 20 years, she guided their team through a variety of open-wheel competitions—INDYCAR, Indy Lights, endurance races, Formula Atlantics and more.

“We built race programs sometimes running under our own name, and other times taking on the persona of others, like driver Sam Schmidt. After he was injured and became a quadriplegic, we helped him launch Sam Schmidt Motorsports and the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, which is now the Arrow McLaren SP team and Conquer Paralysis today. After twenty years of team management, I started just managing the drivers, and some of those drivers are still on the circuit today. It’s been a great ride.”

Patterson’s rise in the sport coincided with a pivotal era in racing, where increased visibility contributed to a surge in popularity and a literal wealth of opportunities—if you knew where to look.

While many in the industry viewed the word ‘sponsorship’ as stickers on cars, Patterson understood its potential in crafting a narrative as much as a good photo op. Thinking holistically, she drew a through-line from a product on a shelf to factory workers, investors, fans, drivers, pit crews and, eventually, the winner’s circle. She went into sponsor meetings asking what their goals were, and explained how her team could deliver the all-important return on investment.

A race car is the ultimate promotion vehicle, she says. It’s not just a sticker on a car, it’s about how much press you get, how many distributors increase their sales, or making employees feel better about their company.

Patterson’s loved sponsorship strategy so much, she would toss ideas to others. Once, she talked a sponsor for Hemelgarn racing, Tae Bo out of abandoning the team by suggesting they activate the program, host a demonstration at stores and have their driver, Buddy Lazier make an appearance for the fans.

“You could hear the lightbulb go off in his head. They had never done anything to leverage the decal on the car. Two weeks later, they announced they had moved from associate position to the title sponsor for two years.”

Over the years, she’s used race cars to promote Boston Scientific’s life-saving spinal cord stimulator, which relieved phantom-limb pain and helped amputees get off painkillers. She took a “lipstick camera” being promoted by Sony and used it to shoot behind-the-scenes footage of Filipino-American driver Michele Bumgarner. It later was edited into a “sizzle reel” that aired in every theater in the Philippines.

But her favorite day of racing—ever—was one in which she didn’t win a thing.

Patterson (center) with the Sam Schmidt team in Las Vegas, 2001
Patterson (center) with the Sam Schmidt team in Las Vegas, 2001

It was the Pikes Peak race in Colorado Springs, 1999. Patterson organized an adoption party for ‘special needs’ kids—those who were older and, thus, less likely to be matched with forever parents.

“Most adoption parties are usually clowns and face painting and balloons, and a 2-year-old looks fantastic. An 11-year-old sits on the side and says ‘this sucks,’ because he knows he can’t compete with a two year old and a clown, right?”

Working with The Adoption Exchange in Colorado Springs, the team threw a party just for the 9-16 age group on the fabled mountain racetrack. Twelve drivers showed up to hand out autographs and hugs. Sponsors contributed a whole hospitality suite of swag. Once they got to the track, the kids “came alive.”

“Our first priority was to treat them like kings and queens for a day,” recalls Patterson. “The second was that we had a system where no child had a ‘sale tag’ for a name badge. Only those hoping to adopt knew the system to see who was available and who wasn’t. They usually make one match a year in that category; at the end of the day, we made eight.”

 

In the racing world, most people work for a team, for the sanctioning body or for the track—very few experience “the trifecta,” as Patterson has. All three groups must work in concert for the sport to happen, each with their own unique challenges.

Lee Anne Patterson 85
Patterson at her first Indy 500, 1996

“Out of all the jobs I’ve done, owning and managing teams was by far the hardest, but it was also the greatest, because you got to compete,” said Patterson. “Everybody that’s on the team is a part of that, even somebody who isn’t turning wrenches like me.”

Never a big team with ample resources like Andretti or Penske, Patterson’s responsibilities included everything from FIA paperwork to managing sponsorships, designing the team’s uniforms, handling their paychecks and booking travel, in addition to directing all public relations and good-cause marketing events.

“I took care of pretty much everything except performance of the car—from the media center, to the hospitality suite to the pit box where I monitored raced control. I also dealt with paying for all the parts. I once spent $85 on a single bolt. I assumed it had to be a fantastic bolt, so I went out to the shop just to see it. It was a hand-fabricated, custom-built bolt.”

The Andretti Autosport team had a more cars and a full-time staff of six handling the same responsibilities as her, but looking back, being so involved was part of the fun. Whether it was figuring out if the “talent” (the driver) was gifted or just a cruise and collect or taking care of corporate sponsors, she never shied from doing what needed to be done.

That ran counter to the norms of the time, where women weren’t allowed inside the pits or the garage, let alone managing their own team. Once, during a stop in Las Vegas, Patterson and the crew were sitting in a diner when the waitress, eyeing their uniforms, asked who they were.  They first teased that they were a bowling team. After a laugh, she turned to Patterson.

“She looks at me and goes, ‘Oh, you must be the secretary,’ and the guys busted out laughing.  Our tire man John said, ‘ma’am, she’s the boss lady.”

Some scoffed at a woman leading a race team, but for others, she was an inspiration. She still recalls the grandmother who sought her out after enjoying garage tour at the Phoenix race to tell her how proud she was of Patterson, to see a woman give a tour and be in that position.  For many years there women weren’t allowed in the garages; she never had the opportunity to even peek inside.

“She had tears in her eyes.”

But Patterson is quick to give credit where it’s due. The women pioneers of racing before her, like Janet Guthrie, Anita Millican, Vicki O’Connor, Alexa Leras and more are the shoulders she stands on. Now, thirty years later, the Auburn Indy Lights race team has a higher percentage of women on its roster than anyone else in the competition.

 

For Patterson, the return to competition, especially at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), ‘the World Capital of Racing,’ is like coming home. “I can’t believe I moved to Auburn and Auburn is running a race at Indy.  You can’t make this up.” No one on the team has ever raced, much less at the Speedway. Having Patterson’s knowledge and resources will be a help to the team as they venture into the unknown.

The Indy Lights Autonomous Challenge is a competition where teams race a self-driving Dallara Indy Lights car head-to-head around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval at top speed nearing 200mph for 20 laps—well short of 500 miles, but a daunting stretch for current autonomous technology.

“Autonomous technology is stuck at 35 miles an hour, and it can’t take a left in front of oncoming traffic,” Patterson said. “This is going to push the boundaries.  It’s not about creating a driverless race series, this is about advancing autonomous technology and building consumer confidence.”

The first competition rounds included white papers, passenger vehicle performance and race simulations against other teams, with the focus on software—each Indy Lights car is built to spec and specially equipped with the latest vehicle sensors, computer vision cameras and radar.

The Auburn Autonomous Tiger Racing team, after three rounds of competition, is in the Top 3. Because of visa restrictions on international teams, Auburn was asked to handle the initial testing for all the teams during the first on-track run in early June.

The second official test is scheduled at the Speedway late August—early September, and final qualification runs will be hosted October 19–22 with the official race on October 23, 2021 at the IMS track.

Auburn may even get some unexpected assistance from new head Football Coach Bryan Harsin, an avid racer who personally has his own Alcohol Funny Car competition license.

Lee Anne Patterson '85 @ IMS 2021
Patterson at the IMS track for the Indy Autonomous Challenge, 2021

On the dragstrip, he has reached speeds in excess of 220mph. Harsin’s racing knowledge will benefit the team, Patterson said.

This challenge will be great to showcase the talents of the students as they seek careers, for establishing Auburn University as a leader in autonomous technology, and even for the autonomous driving industry.

“Anytime you get to race a car at Indy it’s special–with or without a driver,” said Patterson. “It’s a thrill for me to introduce my Auburn family to a sport that has been so good to me. Zoom, Zoom…and War Eagle!”

Hooking a New Angle: Jackie Fry ’12

Hooking a New Angle: Jackie Fry ’12

Traveling the seas, hooking exotic fish off of distant shores—it’s a lifestyle most would be envious of. But working where others vacation is harder than it looks. As the Digital Marketing Specialist for Seakeeper, a company that produces a gyroscopic stabilizer that eliminates up to 95% of boat roll on rough water, Jackie Fry ’12 does more than take great photos and catch fish. She’s connecting industry insiders with ordinary anglers, crafting an image as much as cultivating a brand while leveraging modern technology and data to cast an ever-broadening net.

Auburn Magazine caught up with Fry in time for summer to talk about work, Auburn and life on the water. These are excerpts from that conversation.

AM: A lot of your career has focused on or is related to water and the ocean. Were you drawn to that kind of lifestyle, or did it happen coincidentally?

JF: Growing up, I spent my summers and any free weekends going to the Alabama River, where we would spend the days tubing, bass fishing or just playing in the river or woods. Like most from South Alabama, I also spent a lot of time visiting the beaches along the Emerald Coast from Gulf Shores to Destin. I even lived in Destin for a summer in college. As much as I’d like to say all that time spent on the water or outside drew me to a career in the marine and outdoor space, I’d have to honestly say that it happened coincidentally.

I graduated college in a recession and after a few unsuccessful attempts, I took the first real job opportunity I could. It did not take long to realize how much I missed home and being outdoors. Thankfully, my job provided a tie to those things. As time passed, I couldn’t imagine working in a different industry.

For several years you previously worked for Bonnier Corporation, which publishes a lot of water-related magazines. What did that experience teach you?

I originally began working with every single magazine and event team within the organization, which in 2014 was around fifty brands based in multiple states and three different time zones. Those brands also included magazines focused on photography, motorcycles, food, hunting, flying, working mothers, scuba diving and more. I learned quickly that every brand is different, and so is each person within those teams.

Knowing your audience and how to speak to them in their language is key. Everyone has their different style of work and when it comes down to it, it’s working to find how you can you be the best coworker to accomplish a mutual goal. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?

Do you have any favorite memories from your time with Bonnier?

After being with the company for four years, I’d yet to travel for my job and my first trip was to Irvine, Calif. to meet with our Motorcycle Group in person. The highlight of that trip was riding to lunch on the back of a bike going 100+ mph in the middle of breathtaking canyons.

In 2017, I visited New York City for the first time in my life after being selected for FOLIO Magazine’s 30 Under 30 honoree list. I remember calling my dad looking at the Statue of Liberty from the Battery. It was a place I’d dreamed of visiting for so long, and getting to go on my own merit was special and rewarding.

Later in my time with Bonnier, I’d [become] more integrated with the editorial teams, versus being on a centralized team in a more advisory role, which gave me the chance to travel internationally on editorial planning trips. My first editorial trip was with the Marlin team to Tropic Star Lodge. It’s 150 miles southeast of Panama City, Panama, in the remote Darien jungle. It’s a word-class fishery that offers a variety of species.

While there, I caught my first Pacific sailfish as well as the unique roosterfish on the same day in especially rough weather. On the same trip, I spent two and a half hours fighting a 154 lb. yellowfin tuna. It was, and still is, my largest catch to-date. With a mix of adrenaline and exhaustion, I cried happy tears with my two coworkers who are expert anglers after they’d coached me through the long fight, and we finally got it aboard. It’s a tradition to push someone in the water when they’ve caught their first billfish. At Tropic Star, they make you walk the plank instead, and I did so proudly.

I’d been mesmerized by fly fishing for years but had managed to not pick up a fly rod until I was invited on the 2019 Salt Water Sportsman edit retreat at Stella Maris Resort on Long Island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas.

I did everything I could to prepare before the trip. I took lessons from a guide, read tons of how-to articles and watched more videos than I can count. Hunting bonefish can best be described as humbling. Those fish aren’t called “the flats phantom” for no reason. I ended the first day without a single fish. To say I was hard on myself would be an understatement. After many failed attempts and some not-so-gentle direction from our guide, on day two I finally caught my first bonefish. Later in the day, I caught two more back-to-back wading in the flats. I was on the boat that day with editor-in-chief Glenn Law, who’d caught his first bonefish on the fly at the same resort thirty years before. The reward of having it all come together in such a beautiful place with great company was a memory I’ll never forget.

What projects at Bonnier are you the most proud of? What was the most challenging?

In my first couple of years with Bonnier, we migrated more than sixty websites from different CMS platforms on different versions to a single, in-house platform we called Sandcastle.

In this process, I learned a ton about the unsexy side of social, like having your metadata set up properly so when content is shared to social, the correct information populates.

One program I was able to bring to fruition was Marlin Magazine’s version of March Madness, known as “Marlin Madness.” Instead of basketball teams, each bracket consists of fishing tournament winners from the past year in four divisions: the East Coast, West Coast, Florida and International division. It had existed in a previous form a few years before I managed it, but needed serious improvement. With sixty-eight teams being voted on during a rotating time frame of six weeks, there are a lot of moving parts. We were able to garner a title sponsor both years, which was a big win. I was able to not just improve the overall user experience, but also drive long term revenue for the brand with the leads generated.

How did Auburn help you get to where you are now? Do you have any favorite memories from your time on the Plains?

I grew up not far from Auburn in a small town called Monroeville, Ala. I’d spent summers at basketball camps at Auburn and visited many times with friends who had siblings enrolled there before graduating high school.

My Aunt Kay and Uncle Frank, both Auburn alumni, brought me to my first Auburn football games growing up. By the time I got to school there, campus was fairly familiar to me and not as daunting as it probably could have been. I was one of 36 in my graduating class and never sat in classes with 100+ people before. Attending Auburn expanded my horizons. Had I not attended Auburn, I’m not sure my move to the greater Orlando area shortly after college would have stuck.

Being a Panhellenic Pi Chi Recruitment counselor my junior and senior years is one of my favorite memories. It is not a lot of people’s versions of fun to spend a week in the August sun with thousands of incoming freshman girls. The group of other Pi Chis both of my years were such fun, smart and unique women that they easily put that experience near the top of my list.

One of my professors and internship director at Auburn, Ric Smith, would invite a few students to his home for dinner each semester. One dinner I remember well wound down with him and a couple of my classmates playing guitar. They ended the night singing Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” That song always reminds me of that night now.

Sentimentally, at the top of the list of my favorite memories on the Plains was meeting my husband there. While not very romantic, we met at Skybar a couple of weeks after the 2010 National Championship. We had our first date at Hamilton’s and now have two German Shorthaired Pointers with Auburn names.

You recently joined Seakeeper as the Digital Marketing Specialist. Is it different marketing a specific product versus a sort of lifestyle-type brand?

Absolutely. The publishing industry is in a tough spot and has been for a while. The freedom to fail did not exist in the way that it does at Seakeeper, simply due to revenue and staffing constraints. In that environment, you definitely learn work ethic. I’d been given advice that I might find working for a customer-facing product company boring, but Seakeeper isn’t your average product. It carries that “wow” factor and has disrupted an industry. Owners who have a Seakeeper would argue it’s a lifestyle. They’re able to enjoy more time on the water because of it. They’re proud to tell people who boat with them about the product.

Due to COVID and limited travel, I have yet to see our manufacturing facility in Mohnton, Penn. Because the tolerances are so tight, the flywheel and each half of the sphere that will enclose it are made specifically for one another and can’t be swapped out. Like fingerprints, no two Seakeepers are exactly alike. Seeing them come together in real life will be really cool.

What are your thoughts on the current state of digital marketing and social media? Any tips for more effective communication?

It’s taken a few years, but the importance of shifting focus from quantity to quality has finally come. Spraying people with tons of emails or scheduling five to ten posts a day is a thing of the past. What’s the good in that if none are quality? There is so much noise on the internet now that it’s important to have the right message in front of the right people.

The smartest way to do that is showing them more customized content online, sending them “drip” or automated email campaigns, or targeting them with a paid social campaign based on their own previous actions. It’s also more important than ever to not ignore the basics. Voice search is only continuing to rise. Websites and emails should be able to be read easily on mobile devices. How can people get in contact with you? These are all simple things but do get overlooked still.

What’s the hardest part of working in a water-related field? Your favorite?

Like in many industries, there are not a lot of women. That can mean proving yourself as knowledgeable—over and over and over. That being said, the women I have had the pleasure to work with in this industry are among the smartest, hardest working and driven individuals I know, regardless of gender. Making a connection with one of those dynamic and driven women at Bonnier is what parlayed my taking a position with Seakeeper years later. I’m proud to now say that five out of seven of my immediate team members are women.

Hands down, my favorite part of the marine industry is being able to connect with people. Everyone has a fishing story to tell (whether it’s 100% true or not). Good ones can be about catching a species that has evaded you for years, or about days where the bite was bad but good times were had. Being on the water is good for the soul, and getting to share that with others is something special.

Leigh Anne Phillips Sharp ’99

Leigh Anne Phillips Sharp ’99

Leigh Anne Sharp works for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). Leigh Anne earned a zoology degree from Auburn University and fell in love with coastal wetlands while taking a marine botany course at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She was interested in the adaptations that vegetation had to develop to endure harsh, coastal environments. Sharp moved to Lafayette in 2000 to study Coastal Landscape Ecology with Dr. Robert Twilley.

Under Twilley, she was sent to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge to study marsh processes across an array of management regimes. She was intrigued as she began to understand the complexity and richness of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. She fell in love with the ecosystem, the region, and the people—and never left.

Sharp began working on the State’s coastal restoration effort as a scientist in the DNR Abbeville Field Office in 2002. She now supervises scientists in CPRA’s Lafayette Regional Office and manages scientific aspects of the CRMS program.

 
Celeste Renoewick ’06

Celeste Renoewick ’06

I joined the Navy to follow in my father’s footsteps. He spent over 20 years serving on submarines. Since I was a woman, submarines were not an option and I became a Navy Seabee. I joined in 1998 and had many wonderful adventures over the next 8 years. I served under two United States Presidents at Camp David, deployed to Spain and an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, and served as an instructor for the Advanced Engineering Aide class. After 8 fun years I applied for a commissioning program and was selected. In August of 2006 I became an Auburn Tiger.

At the time, I had one son who was 18 months old. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about Auburn, from the amazing instruction and professors, the friendly and beautiful campus, and the perfect surrounding city. Over the next three years, I attended classes full time year-round, gave birth to my second son in 2008, and graduated magna cum laude in industrial and systems engineering with a minor in psychology.

In 2009, I was commissioned in the U.S. Navy as an Ensign in the Civil Engineer Corps.
Since graduating, my 22-year Naval adventure has continued with tours at the Top Gun flight school in Nevada, where I was responsible for the maintenance and improvements of the base’s facilities. I was then stationed in California where I deployed to Kenya and Djibouti.

While deployed, I was in charge of constructing a local school addition and maternity ward. I then relocated to an Information Operations Center where I was the head of the Public Works Department for the more the 600-acre base. Following West Virginia, I was a construction manager for the submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia. While there, I managed over $90 million in new and repair construction projects while leading the Facilities Engineering and Acquisition Department.

I am a single mother of 4 amazing boys, a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, a registered professional engineer, and a proud Auburn University woman. War Eagle!

Winning a New Game: Joanne P. McCallie ’90

Winning a New Game: Joanne P. McCallie ’90

Despite the prevalence of women’s basketball around the country, certain coaching names inevitably stand out.

Pat Summit. Geno Auriemma. Joanne Palombo-McCallie.

As “Coach P” to the generations of women who have played under her, McCallie was—and is—recognized for her passion for the game, for an indomitable spirit and a commitment to developing people, not just players. Three-time NCAA Women’s Coach of the Year, her 628 wins places her in the all-time Top 40 women’s basketball coaches.

But throughout her career, McCallie was hiding a secret—a secret that at times threatened to disrupt her career and upend her life: besides battling opponents on the court, McCallie was battling her own mental health issues.

For the first time, McCallie is opening up about that battle through her new book, “Secret Warrior: A Coach and Fighter, On and Off the Court.”

“The timing of this book just sort of happened,” said McCallie from her home. “We had a great team [at Duke], we were going to go to the NCAA tournament, we finished third in a great league, all excited like everybody else, and then the pandemic hit.”

McCallie stepped away from basketball after more than 25 years as player and coach following the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

She gave up more than just her job—a berth in the NCAA tournament, a shot at the title, another make-or-break run with the team—but it has given her things, too. Peace and quiet, for one, but also room to breathe.

Freed from the confines of a relentless schedule that begins once the season ends, she found a rare moment of reflection. She began to write a story she waited her whole life to tell.

“I thought at age 39 that I might write the story, because we were in the national title and that, perhaps, we had the proper stage in which to share such information, but I was counseled against that,” she remembers. “At that time, I wanted to coach so badly, the reaction to that information could not be trusted.”

MCCALLIE (NO. 33) WITH THE 1985-1986 NORTHWESTERN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM

Basketball has always been the vehicle that transported McCallie. It began in junior high school, then continued as a scholarship athlete at Northwestern University. After graduating, McCallie tried working in sales for a telemarketing firm, but found an emptiness that made her long for collegiate athletics.

In 1988, she took a chance and flew to Tacoma, Wash. on her own dime to interview for an assistant coaching position with Joe Ciampi, head coach of Auburn Women’s Basketball. It wasn’t the only school she interviewed with at the time, but there was a connection to the southern school she couldn’t shake.

“I was told to always follow good people—find good people that can make a difference in your life. Joe [Ciampi] is pretty remarkable coach, and so I followed, except I didn’t realize exactly what I was following.”

McCallie’s arrival on the Plains coincided with some of the best years in program history. Ciampi led a team that had only won a combined 17 games the past two seasons to an unprecedented three consecutive appearances in the finals of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.

Besides transitioning from Chicago to the Deep South, the learning curve from player to coach is what she remembers most.

“Coaching is a craft; I had no exposure to that level of coaching whatsoever. All I did was learn—I’m quite sure I added very little to the equation in year one—but I was very enthusiastic, and I loved the team and coaches.”

After her first year, coaching seemed impossible. But in year two, she began to understand coaching as a lifestyle and “the business of developing people.” She became a critical asset in recruiting, helping to make Auburn a top destination for star players around the country.

Some of those players, like Chantel Tremitiere and Ruthie Bolton—both future Auburn icons—helped her grown into her role.

“They taught me more than I could ever need to know in coaching and kept me humble. Really, they were the two people, besides coach Ciampi, that made me [believe] I could perhaps be a coach someday.”

McCallie met her husband John McCallie ’90 while at Auburn. She also was part of the cohort of Auburn graduates to earn a master’s in business administration the first year it was offered.

When she was offered the head coaching position at the University of Maine in 1991, it was the obvious next step, the culmination of the first stage of her career and the beginning of the next.

It didn’t matter that, at 26, she was coaching a player only four years younger, or that she only had been coaching at all for less than five, or even that she was up against storied programs like Texas, Rutgers and Florida.

In short order, the University of Maine became an ascendant powerhouse. Under “Coach P,” the Black Bears earned five regular-season conference titles, four conference championships and made six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. She remains Maine’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach with 167 victories and was named conference coach of the year three times.

But there was a shadow on the rise. Looking back, with so much happening so quickly, it seems inevitable there would be a breakdown.

“My brain health was like everyone else’s until age 30. I mean, I was an excitable person. A first-time head coach at 26. I’d just given birth to my daughter. Life was incredibly busy, and full, and exciting. Then, at 30 years old, I had my first episode, and, you know, it’s shocking—there’s nothing you can say to really prepare anyone for your mind deciding to take its own path.”

McCallie had suffered her first mental collapse in October 1995, the first of two singular events that contributed to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

She was hospitalized for two nights and spent two weeks away from the team getting treatment for “exhaustion.” She concealed the truth from everyone but her family, but rather than question their coach’s commitment, the team coalesced around her. They won their conference tournament in 1995 and again in 1996.

It wasn’t until she began writing “Secret Warrior” that she told her former players the truth about her condition.

“There were issues, and [the players] understood all that. They understood I had a mental health issue, [but] that’s where the language at that point stopped.

And for them, I think, as they reported back to me, that was all they needed to know at that time, because we wanted to win championships and pursue things together, which we did. But later in life, many of them didn’t know the whole story.”

McCallie learned to trust her doctors, and to not be so hard on herself—a challenge on par with building a successful basketball program. But the newfound sense of balance helped ease her transition to head coach of Michigan State.

In seven fast-paced years, the Michigan State Spartans made the NCAA Tournament five consecutive times, winning a Big 10 Conference Title in 2005. That same year, the Spartans faced coaching legend Pat Summit’s Tennessee Volunteers in the Final Four, overcoming a 16-point deficit to reach the National Championship in only her fifth year.

Though they would fall to Baylor in that game, the next year she led the USA Basketball Under-20 National Team to the 2006 FIBA Americas Championship and a gold medal.

Coincidentally, McCallie also developed a close friendship with MSU’s then-head football coach Nick Saban.

“I’m the only woman ever to shadow Nick for a day,” she says proudly. “I went from the meetings to the practice, and the way in which he operates and executes organization was an experience to just absorb and take in.”

McCallie readily admits to seeking inspiration in books written by esteemed colleagues, friends and, occasionally, rivals. The books written by legendary Duke University head coach Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski were extremely valuable to developing her coaching identity early on.

When she made the difficult decision to leave Michigan State for Duke, the increased proximity to Coach K was just one part of the school’s appeal. But with his own program to run, and with added duties as head coach of USA Basketball, she wasn’t sure when, or if, they would ever meet.

Then she heard a knock on her door. Or, a loud bang, to be specific.

“At one point, he just came to me—he banged on the door aggressively—that’s something he had ever done before or again.

“I wanted to find something to express the way I felt about coaching, and it began as a quote, ‘choice not chance determines your destiny—choose to become a champion in life.’ Life can throw us a lot of curveballs, but we try to we try to teach that you still though have control of the choices you make, despite all the difficulty that you can face.”

A year since she stepped away from basketball, the uncertainty and stress caused by the pandemic have made mental health issues a rising national crisis. The difference between now and 25 years ago is that, freed from the stigma of mental health disorders, people are talking about their experiences more.

McCallie is one of them. Through hashtags like “#StoriesOverStigmas” and “#BeGoodToYou,” she’s showing others how to cope and eventually overcome the issues that almost derailed her own career. But these days, her legacy is secured.

She is the only head coach in Division I history to win a conference title and be named coach of the year in four separate conferences, the ACC, Big Ten, America East and North Atlantic. Two of her MSU assistant coaches, Katie Abrahamson and Felisha Legette-Jack, each became head coaches at the University of Central Florida and the University of Buffalo, respectively. A former player at Maine, Amy Vachon, is currently that team’s head coach.

While McCallie isn’t sure she’s left basketball for good, she’s loving her new role as mental health advocate, coaching for a much broader team against much less understood opponent.

“I miss my team very much, I miss coaching, I miss the practices a lot, that incredible focus you have; the travel and all the other things, not so much,” said McCallie. “But I also feel like I can do more, coaching from this angle—this is a different kind of stage that I’m on, and I’m enjoying it. I’m learning a lot and hoping to help.”

Angela Morton ’09

Angela Morton ’09

I am the youngest child of five children in my family. My parents obtained their bachelor degrees from Faulkner University when they were in their mid-40’s, and that was shortly before I began my freshman year at Auburn University in 2002. I only had one sibling at that time that had already graduated from college and she had attended an HBCU, Talladega College. I had an older brother who was in his senior year at the University of Alabama when I began my freshman year at Auburn. So, I was starting with a limited amount of guidance on how to navigate through college and especially a predominately white institution (PWI).

That lack of guidance and personal hardships, including the death of one of my brothers from sickle cell disease during my junior year, left me unsure of how to choose my path in college. I was originally a pre-nursing major because I was always told that I was a great nurse to my brother when he was experiencing his sickle crises. When my brother passed, I began to reassess what I really wanted to do with my education and future career.

During the last years of undergrad I became an SOS orientation leader, which helped me understand fully the help that Auburn can provide with free tutors. I changed my major to nutrition and food science with a concentration in dietetics. Changing my major caused me to basically start all over in my courses. I was able to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in 2009.

My first job was with the Georgia Department of Public Health-WIC Program, in which I was hired for a month before my undergrad graduation. Unlike any of my nutrition major peers, I was the only one in my class that pursued a job versus applying for an internship to become a Registered Dietitian.

After working for the Georgia WIC Program for three years, I was accepted into a dietetic internship with the Sage Colleges in Troy, New York. The distance program allowed me to continue to work while completing 1200 hours of unpaid work experience at different nutrition programs and with the East Alabama Medical Center.

Once I passed my board exam and became a Registered Dietitian, my career really accelerated. I’ve worked as a WIC nutrition manager, renal dietitian at DaVita dialysis, nutrition program specialist at the state WIC office, and now as a clinical dietitian with Emory Healthcare. My career has put me in position to work and speak in front of the CEO of Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Deputy Directors of the Georgia Department of Public Health, several physicians and other healthcare providers.

Now I am in position, after years of various experiences within my career, to begin my entrepreneurial journey. In December 2020, I launched my business, The Georgia Renal Dietitian. Within my business I provide nutrition counseling to patients that have chronic kidney disease. Auburn helped me prepare for my career, especially with the resources that I discovered while serving as an orientation leader.

I’m sure the experience is different for students now, but I will always advocate for more aggressive outreach to the students to inform them of the assistance that Auburn provides with helping students excel in their courses. This is especially important for students that are like me and did not have any or many family members that had already attended college.

I am an ’09 Auburn alumna and the wife of an 11’ Auburn alumni. We are both excited to see what college our daughter Ava decides to attend, we are both rooting for Auburn, and we are comforted to know that she will have both of her parents to help provide her guidance. War Eagle!