This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Southern Chester County Weeklies‘ website.
There was never a time Vanessa Robtison, 31, can remember when she wasn’t involved in something sports, whether it was coaching, playing or even just attending for fun.
Growing up with an athletic older brother and two cousins, she almost had no choice.
Well, at least her brother had no choice but to let her play.
“Most of the kids in the neighborhood were my brother’s age and they were male,” Robtison said. “They would play soccer or football in the backyard and I was that annoying little sister that just had to participate and do whatever they were doing because, although my brother didn’t think I was cool as his little sister, I thought he was very cool.
“I wanted to be as good as the boys and anytime I had the opportunity to play with kids my own age, I really excelled when I was younger because I was used to getting pushed over and really had to fight to get the soccer ball in the backyard.”
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From then on, she continued to play in sports throughout her academic career.
Robtison, who graduated from Neshaminy High School in Bucks County, first started teaching at her alma mater.
And even there, she broke the norm.
“I was the first female Tech. Ed. teacher ever in the Neshaminy School District,” she said. “There, I also coached high school girls soccer and middle school boys and girls basketball.”
On top of that, she also did ski club and was a yearbook adviser.
She eventually moved on to Pennsbury, where she continued to coach soccer, among other things.
Along the way, she received her principal certification from Cabrini College.
When she was going down to Virginia to visit her father, she decided to send some messages out to districts in the area.
“At the time, I really didn’t want to leave Pennsylvania,” Robtison said. “I knew I had a really good job at Pennsbury and I loved coaching at Neshaminy, but I knew I wanted to come back to Pennsylvania and get the experience to be an athletic director, so I took that chance.”
Robitson was able to fulfill her wish of becoming an athletic and activities director in Virginia.
“I had a really good experience,” she said. “I had really good coaches and it was nice to see some family I hadn’t really gotten to know growing up. I wanted to come back to Pennsylvania when the timing was right. I wanted to find a school district that not only I wanted to go to, but wanted me.”
Over the summer, Avon Grove’s position for athletic director opened up and Robtison saw it as a perfect chance to maker her return home.
“I knew this was the place for me,” she said. “I landed here at Avon Grove and it has really felt like a homecoming in many ways. It’s really neat to be here because I do still have Neshaminy ties.”
What may seem unusual to for some at having a female athletic director, to Robtison, it’s something she’s had before.
When she was in high school, Sheila Murphy was her athletic director.
“To me, that is the normal,” Robtison said. “She was a fantastic athletic director and I really had some positive examples in coaches, teachers, principals, administrators – all those things.”
Being back and so close to home is exactly what Robtison was hoping to achieve.
As someone who was always close to her family, the memories are constantly flooding back to her.
“We’re really a tight-knit family, so it’s encouraging for me to be back,” she said.
Her move to Avon Grove was as quick as can be as she was given a matter of a couple weeks to pack up in Virginia and shuffle her life back to the Keystone State.
“We have great kids (at Avon Grove), really good coaches, very good teachers and good activities sponsors who are very involved and engaged,” Robtison said. “It feels like a cohesive family and that’s where I wanted to be.”
Though Robtison sees herself in the role as nothing special, there is something to be said to have a female in a generally male-dominated career.
“I had talked to Tom Alexander (Avon Grove principal) and said, ‘To me, being a female in a male dominated sport or profession is all I have ever known,’” she said. “I went to Millersville University as a tech ed teacher and I was often times the only female in many of my classes. Most of them might have one other female. It’s always been normal to me.”
Even at a young age, she consistently found herself among the other gender.
“When I was little, I played in co-ed sports,” Robtison said. “In middle school, I made the boys soccer team. I’ve always felt that was my normal.
“I grew up in a family that loved sports and appreciated sports. Our lives were centered around sports in many ways.”
Soccer was Robtison’s first love, but not her only sport.
She also played travel basketball, travel softball, volleyball and ran cross country.
“My life always centered around whatever sport I was in,” Robtison said.
That didn’t mean she slacked in her academics.
“My parents had a high expectation of me in the classroom and my father never had an empty threat,” she said. “If I didn’t do well in the classroom, I wasn’t going to be allowed to play sports.”
Looking back, Robtison is grateful she had parents who supported her passion for sports, but also made sure she kept a focus on her schooling.
It was what she needed to be where she is today.
“I knew in high school I wanted to be an athletic director,” Robtison said. “For me, I can’t give sports up. That’s who I, in many ways, identify myself around. This is a dream job. Every day, my life is athletics and activities. Every day I get to be a part of students’ interests and get them involved in their school.”