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Sarah Parks first put in the work over the course of her four years studying at Penn as a student manager for Penn men's basketball. Now graduated, Parks has earned promotion to the position of director of basketball operations, and she's the only woman running the show for a men's program in the Ivy League.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Four years just wasn’t enough.

After working with the team for the last four years as a student manager, Sarah Parks was hired this year as the new Director of Operations for Penn men’s basketball. She replaced Brad Fadem, who was promoted to be the Assistant Athletic Director for Admissions and Financial Aid at the end of the 2018-19 school year. 

“I think for us, all the coaches, that has made this transition so much easier for us, knowing that we have someone that’s been through this, knows exactly how the program is run, what we expect of every aspect of the program: players [and] managers. For us, it’s been seamless,” coach Steve Donahue said. 

When Fadem was promoted, Parks had just graduated from Wharton with a degree in finance and management. She had an offer to work at a bank in Chicago but was questioning whether it was the right move for her.

“I started to kind of think about [the fact that] I know I enjoy being a manager, I know that I enjoy being around the program and all this, and I was having some doubts about the company that I would have gone to work for and just going into finance in general, I guess,” Parks said. “I figured that this would be both challenging and an opportunity that doesn’t come around that often.”

Her experience with the program was probably the biggest factor in the decision to hire Parks. Having worked as a manager for four years, she had a good relationship with both the staff and the players. In the end, Donahue made the final decision to hire Parks.

“I saw someone who was going to have an excellent career in whatever she chose. I saw how hard she worked academically. I saw all the sacrifices she made for our program. I saw how she could multitask and not lose any kind of poise. So whatever she decided to pick as a career path, I thought she would be very successful,” Donahue said. 

Credit: Gillian Diebold

“I think her familiarity with the program was huge. We knew that she could come in pretty seamlessly and understand how our team operates, how the coaches operate, what coach Donahue’s expectations are,” Fadem said. “She’s clearly intelligent and sharp. We just felt she had the characteristics and the makeup of someone who could do well in this position.”

Parks had originally wanted to be a manager because she wanted basketball to continue to play a role in her life. She played basketball in high school, and when she arrived at Penn, she joined the women’s club basketball team. To Parks, serving as a manager seemed to be a great way to be more involved with the program. 

As the Director of Ops., Parks handles everything for the team outside of coaching and recruiting. This means that she takes care of logistical details, like scheduling games, ordering gear, making travel plans, and ordering meals. 

As for how her role has changed, Parks has taken on more administrative duties. That said, being a manager  prepared her for the responsibilities she has now.

“Some things, like, for example, working with development for alumni relations, are completely new, and then other things aren’t as new,” Parks said. “With travel, I’m pretty used to what we do in travel, it’s just a matter of handling the things myself.”

Parks is currently the only female Director of Ops. for men’s basketball in the Ivy League. As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Parks hasn’t faced too many blatant expressions of sexism. She says that the staff has never done anything to make her feel unqualified because she is a woman. Most of the struggles she has faced have been from administrators at other schools.

“It’s really small things that you kind of notice. So, for example, someone will reach out and they want to schedule a game and they’re like ‘Oh, can you please send me his contact information?’” Parks said. “It’s small things that you notice — like that, where they kind of expect a male to be in the role.

“I wouldn’t say there are any huge obstacles that I’ve had to overcome. It’s more trying to change perceptions of people on the outside who kind of just expect a male to be in the role. You just shock them a little bit [and] then move forward.”  

Though the season hasn’t officially begun, Parks has already taken her responsibilities in stride. 

“I think across the department, everyone has been really impressed with the work she’s doing,” Fadem said. “Obviously the season hasn’t really started yet, and things get crazy, but up to now, I think she’s far exceeded any expectations.”

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