Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
Angel Mason became Berry College’s new director of athletics on Jun. 1, 2019. Since then, she has gotten to work with two main goals in mind: integrating Berry life and establishing the college as one of the best programs in its conference and division.
Berry only recently joined the NCAA’s third division, making the step up from NAIA in 2010, and Mason said that was a big reason for her decision to apply for the job.
“I was very excited about how young the program is here as far as NCAA DIII, which is exciting to me because I felt like I could bring a lot of things to Berry, but that Berry could also be a place where I continue to grow as a professional,” Mason said. “I was at a place where I was ready to be part of a new team, to be able to be in a space where I felt like I could not just lead a program, but be a part of a program that was going in the direction that I wanted.”
That direction is upwards, as Mason said she wants Berry to stake its claim as one of the best schools in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA).
“I think our direction is defining who we want to be in DIII, because we’re very young,” Mason said. “The vast majority of DIII schools have been DIII for a long time, and we’re basically scratching 10 years, so that’s a very different place to be in. So for us it’s really defining who we want to be within that, and I would say we want to be at the top of the SAA, we want to be competitive every year and we have to be able to work together to figure out how we do that.”
Derek Taylor, Berry’s associate director of athletics, said that, because Berry’s presence in DIII is so new, Mason’s previous experience at strong DIII colleges was an important part of her résumé.
“We’re still only 10 years into being a DIII institution, but if you look at the conference championships that we have been fortunate enough to win, we have been sort of on an upward trajectory since we made that transition,” Taylor said. “And I think Angel’s experience at some of those institutions who we would aspire to be like, especially athletically, was definitely something that I noticed.”
While Taylor did not have a say in the hiring process, he did sit in on Mason’s interview and said that her experience was only one of many reasons he thought she would be a good fit for the job.
“I think what I saw was someone who was very well spoken, obviously very intelligent and confident in her abilities in athletic administration,” Taylor said. “She’s very well connected and has done a really good job of forging relationships at the national level. She’s served on a lot of committees at the NCAA level, she’s very involved in a number of different institutes, professional development programs, those sorts of things, and those are all things that I think help bring some more national recognition to the athletic program, so she brought that with her when she came here.”
Since arriving at Berry, Mason has used those connections to help Berry students looking to work in the world of sports. She notably brought students along to a NCAA convention, and Taylor said her relationship with student athletes has been an important part of her early tenure.
“Her rapport with the student athletes has been very strong, and that is something that I’ve noticed that I would say has been a success,” Taylor said. “She’s done that with a number of our student athletes, and that’s really not something that we have done before. The opportunity was there, but just for different reasons we have not always sent a lot of our student athletes to national programs. We’ve sent a handful, but I saw more going this year and more involved in that stuff than I have in years past, so that plays into what she does well; she’s very well connected at the national level. That directly benefits our student athletes, especially the ones that want to get into higher education athletic administration. The NCAA has some really good programs and development tools that are specific for student athletes that want to get into the field, and she helped us tap into those.”
This commitment to providing students with opportunities has also manifested itself on Berry’s campus, where Mason has been making good use of the student work program.
“I interact with our student workers a lot, because they are everywhere for us,” Mason said. “We can’t actually do what we do without them, because so much for us is managing our events, all of our contests, and those take bodies. I’ve started a small student work team and my hope is that I can eventually grow that into an active workplace for students that are in the sport management program, so that they can get some hands-on experience with the type of things that they’ll have to deal with within athletic administration.”
Getting to know students, not just those she works with, has been another important part of Mason’s transition to Berry. In order to better integrate into Berry culture, Mason said she does her best to participate in as many campus events as she can, such as being a volunteer at last Saturday’s Casino Night.
“Anytime that somebody’s asked me if I would be able to volunteer to help with something, I’ve made sure to say yes as long as it doesn’t make me miss something that I need to do for our programs,” Mason said. “It’s helping me learn what’s to the root of how we function here at Berry, and it’s been very good. Some of it is tiring because there’s so many student things at night, but it’s also been very helpful.”
Another way Mason said she has been able to get to know Berry was by conducting a listening tour of the college. Mason said she got a chance to talk with student athletes, upperclassmen in leadership roles and members of the admissions, as well as community partners in Rome and at the tennis facility. She said all of these interactions and relationships are important to her as she moves forward with her plans for Berry’s athletic department.
“I’m really proud of the relationships that I’ve been able to build thus far, and I really want to be able to build on that with my students and with my coaching staff and with all of our support that we have across campus,” Mason said. “Athletics is a seven-days-a-week type of job, so building that trust with one another, having that rapport, it’s invaluable to what we do. I’m hoping I can continue to do that, that folks will feel like I’m the right person, that I’m supposed to be here.”
Both Mason and Taylor said the first few months of her tenure have been very good, and that they look forward to what the future holds for the department. After a period that saw long-time director of athletics Todd Brooks resign in 2013, only to return for a second stint between 2015 and 2018, followed by Taylor assuming the role of interim director of athletics, Taylor said the program is hoping they can return to some of the stability they had during Brook’s first spell in charge.
“The department had been through a fair amount of transitioning,” Taylor said. “There had been three AD changes, so I think that what we were looking for in someone coming in as the next AD was some stability. That’s the hope with Angel, that she’s going to be around for a while.”
That is a hope Mason shares as well, as she said she admired what Brooks and the last few years had brought to Berry and looked forward to creating her own legacy.
“For me, it’s more about not what he did but more so where we’re going now, and what the next steps are, and me working to build that with our team that we have here,” Mason said. “Obviously there were a lot of things that took place within his tenure: The Cage, transitioning to DIII, starting a football program, starting a softball program, so there was a real level of growth there. I think for me it’s more about what’s next. We know where we came from and he is a big part of that, and I hope to be a big part of where we’re going.”