A Conversation With Haverford’s New Director of Athletics
Danielle Lynch is bringing the mindset both of an educator and an athlete to the role, with over 20 years of coaching and sports administration under her belt.
The word that kept coming up while interviewing Haverford’s new Director of Athletics Danielle Lynch was: challenge.
As she described her athletic, coaching, and administrative career, Lynch spoke about consistently challenging herself to not rest on her accomplishments and to take another step forward—even one that might be daunting.
That has landed her in a role 20-plus years in the making, with stops at Susquehanna University, Penn State Harrisburg, Bucknell, and West Point. And before that? She was a runner at Rutgers University, who occasionally still competes today.
In a conversation with Haverford magazine, the West Orange, N.J., native spoke about how her passion for athletics started, how she went from focusing on a career in disaster management mitigation to coaching, and what she’s learned from her various stops on the way.
It all started with her passion for running. I was a fast kid. There was a street I used to race on, and I was faster than my brothers and his friends, to the point where other kids would come race me from other neighborhoods. My mom heard about that and helped me find organized teams in New Jersey to join. I began formally competing when I was eight years old and was a 400m hurdler out of high school. Once I got to college at Rutgers University, I saw an opportunity to challenge myself differently and be able to score points in the indoor pentathlon—that’s hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put, and an 800m race. My daughter and I eventually competed in the Colgate Women’s Games, where I had won a few times when I was younger.
Her coaching career started because of interest in … disaster management. I wanted to work for FEMA and found an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C. After a dismal race at USA Nationals, the head track coach at West Point asked what was next for me. He told me I could work with him as an assistant coach and that I could volunteer at the local office of emergency management. I discovered I loved coaching. My job was to work with students who weren’t recruited for track. We affectionately called ourselves The Bad News Bears and set our goal to make the conference meet and score points. And that’s what we did. It was a great opportunity for me to grow and for these cadets to grow as well.
Taking on new challenges didn’t stop there. I was brought to Bucknell University to revamp their men’s sprint program after there were some roster management situations. They ended up becoming Patriot League champions. From there, I started a track and field program—basically from scratch—at Penn State Harrisburg, turning a club sport into a group that competed as an NCAA team, which produced several All Americans and a national champion.
Administration came naturally. I felt that I could effect greater change by becoming an administrator. I kept finding students were looking to me for answers, opinions, or direction. I’ve been the emergency contact for students I didn’t even coach because they told me they knew I would answer the phone. Part of athletic leadership is truly caring for the individuals on our teams, and their experience is greater when they’re able to express concerns and needs, and they’re met by a listening ear and someone who cares for them.
There’s a connection between what she does as a coach and administrator and managing disasters. I’m a problem-solver, I’m always looking for the opportunity to help someone. I look to people who are minoritized or at the margins and try to find a way for them to gain access and equity according to whatever their needs are.
Her drive to keep pushing herself is relentless. I got my Master of Science in education while at Bucknell, and I’m also a doctoral candidate now at Penn State’s Lifelong Learning in Adult Education program. That’s my ultimate challenge: to finish, within the next year, writing about the lived experiences of Black male professional athletes in light of the current social justice movement, which I’ve been working on since 2013. My husband asked what’s next after I finish that, but I told him I’m truly done and that I want to do some things I enjoy, including reading through a long list of books. I just think it’s important to strive to be excellent. I think that when I’m too comfortable, I can feel stagnant. The world has so many possibilities, and you don’t know what your next step is and what you won’t experience if you don’t push yourself.
The final challenge: Leading Haverford’s athletic program. The majority of my coaching experiences have been with students who want to push themselves in pretty much everything they’re a part of. There’s a level of commitment they’re interested in. And my job is to listen, to evaluate and see where I can bridge divide, where I can put together plans to support the needs that I see. The vision isn’t my sole vision; it’s a collaborative one that emulates the voices and desires of student athletes and coaches. In my interview, I said, “If it’s not broken, I don’t intend to break it.”