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Godfrey’s Trailblazing Role

In March, when Wilmington University alumna Katherine Godfrey was named the athletic director at Salesianum, Wilmington’s all-boys school, she almost immediately decided to reconnect with WilmU Director of Athletics Dr. Stefanie Whitby.

As Salesianum’s first female AD, Godfrey knew she could gain valuable insight from Dr. Whitby, who had been an assistant coach for her high school track team. “I absolutely plan to sit down with Dr. Stef and pick her brain,” Godfrey says. “I’m sure I can gain a lot of knowledge from her.”
“Katie is an excellent choice for this position at Salesianum,” says Dr. Whitby, adding that she’s humbled by Godfrey’s sentiments. “She was an outstanding athlete herself, and that robust background will serve her well in this leadership role. Katie is tremendously hard-working, caring and compassionate, and she will be able to make tough but fair decisions.”

 

(Godfrey) is the first woman given this opportunity at our school, and that’s a source of pride for us. But make no mistake, it’s also true that Katie is absolutely the right person for this job.  —Father J. Christian Beretta 

The announcement of Godfrey’s new job did not come as a complete surprise to the Salesianum community. After all, she had already scored another first in 2008 when she became the junior varsity basketball coach. Prior to that, no woman had ever coached a sport at Sallies.

A member of the Mathematics Department for 16 years, Godfrey’s ties to Salesianum go back to its very beginning. A couple of great-great uncles were members of the first graduating class in 1907 (thus becoming “Salesianum Gentlemen.”) Her maternal grandfather, William Boeck, was a 1934 grad, and became a member of the school’s first Hall of Fame class. Thirty years later, her father, Anthony Orga, got his Salesianum sheepskin. Godfrey’s three brothers and a few uncles and cousins also are alumni.

Young Katie even aspired to becoming the first female to attend the school. And she planned to play basketball there. After all, she grew up trading baskets and elbows with her brothers during family driveway games. Says the 5-foot-4-inch Godfrey: “I didn’t win, but I kept battling.”
She officially assumed her new office on July 1. According to the school’s research, she became the only woman currently serving as AD at an all-boys school in the United States. She joins seven other female athletic directors in Delaware high schools.

Godfrey, who received her master’s in School Leadership from Wilmington University in 2009, brings plenty of athletic bona fides to her new job. She and her brothers and two sisters grew up playing all manner of games, and at Wilmington’s all-girls Ursuline Academy she played volleyball, excelled as a guard in basketball, and was a sprinter and hurdler on the track team. Following high school, she scored a partial academic scholarship to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, where she was recruited for the basketball team and was a walk-on in volleyball.

After graduating from Washington College in 2004, Godfrey joined the Sals faculty and, for the next five years, also began accumulating coaching experience outside the school. During the fall, she was on the volleyball staff at Padua Academy — another Wilmington all-girls school — from 2004–06. In ’07, she moved over to Wilmington’s Tower Hill School, where she was at first assistant varsity coach for girls volleyball, then head coach in 2008 and ’09.

In the winter, she served as assistant jayvee coach and assistant varsity coach for basketball at her alma mater, Ursuline, from 2004–08.

The transition to coaching boys at Sallies proved surprisingly easy. “The guys were great,” she says of her jayvee basketball squad. “There was a handful of them that I actually taught, and they all knew who I was, so I wasn’t someone new to them. And we just jumped right in; we just started playing basketball. It didn’t matter what gender I was, we needed to get better, and that was our agenda.”

She says Mike Gallagher, who was the head basketball coach at the time, “was a fantastic mentor. Working with him was a dream. I really enjoyed coaching the boys.”

She stepped back from coaching the next year to have her first child and to complete her studies at WilmU. She and her husband, Rick (a Sallies grad, of course, where he was a member of the baseball team), have three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 4 to 11. The kids play virtually every sport known to man, and their parents coach them.

Godfrey says she chose WilmU for her graduate degree because it was affordable and convenient, with classes at the Wilson Graduate Center on Reads Way. She says the instructors were very supportive. “They made it clear that you could reach out to them at any time, and I found their stories about being in the field very helpful.”

Rick Godfrey enrolled at WilmU a few years later, and received his master’s in Business Administration with a Finance concentration in 2013. He works for Barclays.  While Godfrey may be unique in Sallies history, she was “an easy choice” for AD, according to the school’s principal, Father J. Christian Beretta.

“Katie was raised in a family with deep roots at Salesianum, and has been an outstanding teacher here for years, known for both her high expectations and student-centered approach,” Beretta says. “She brings not only a passion for athletics and competitive spirit, but also a tireless commitment to our school community and its mission. It’s true that she is the first woman given this opportunity at our school, and that’s a source of pride for us. But make no mistake, it’s also true that Katie is absolutely the right person for this job.”

Godfrey will step back from classroom duties to devote herself full-time to athletics. “I’m sad to stop teaching,” she says. “Other than being a mom, I consider that my most important role in life.”
She says the reaction to her appointment has been almost entirely positive. “Probably the best part about it is how excited my current and former students have been. Their support has been amazing.”

She says she is “very excited” about heading up perhaps Delaware’s most successful athletic program. Salesianum teams have won championships in every Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association sport in which they participate, and alumni have played in the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball. But when Godfrey speaks about her philosophy as AD, she doesn’t mention winning or championships.

“It’s about the boys,” she says. “Everyone is uniquely talented in different ways, so it’s about providing a program for them to grow, and giving them a positive experience and allowing them to figure out how they are uniquely instrumental in the growth of Salesianum athletics overall.”
Adds Father Beretta: “Our rich athletic tradition will be in capable hands.”

-Bob Yearick

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