For Bethlehem native Mary Beth Spirk, serving as Moravian’s athletic director and head coach of women’s basketball combines her love of sports with her passion for helping shape the lives of young adults.
What is your role at the university and what drew you to this profession?
I am the athletic director and the head coach of women’s basketball. I was drawn to coaching because I always enjoyed playing sports while I was growing up. I also enjoy working with young people. I started out as the assistant coach of the women’s team. When the head coaching position opened up, I jumped at it. I love what I do. I believe athletics helps develop young people into healthy adults and good citizens. As athletic director I have the opportunity to influence both male and female athletes in all of the teams at Moravian.
Regarding your role as women’s basketball coach, did you play basketball yourself? Why coach basketball not field hockey or women’s soccer?
When I was growing up, women’s sports opportunities were limited. I developed my passion for sports in the backyard of my parents’ house with my brothers and their friends. We played everything from football to baseball and anything in between. There were no field hockey or soccer teams when I was growing up. I played basketball and softball in college and developed a love for both.
Share some of your experience as a woman in what’s long been a male-dominated profession? How difficult was it for you, and assuming it was difficult, how did you stay the course?
Athletics is definitely male dominated. I accepted the challenge of leading the athletic department to prove to myself and to young women and girls that we should be represented at the table with the men in athletics. Often I get a surprised look when someone learns that I am the AD. I just ignore it and move on. People eventually realize that I know what I am doing and that you don’t need to be a man to be a leader or to coach a team or to lead an athletic department.
Of your accomplishments thus far in that role, which is most meaningful to you?
Every year I organize an alumni game and a reception afterward. At each of those events, every year, scores of my former players return with their families, their spouses, and their children. I am filled with pride when I see the outstanding adults and citizens that they have matured into. That is what is most meaningful to me—having the chance to help positively influence the development of these young adults.
Share something about yourself that people may not know.
I have five brothers and two sisters.
I coached softball and basketball for several years at Moravian before I focused exclusively on basketball.
I love dogs and now have a six-year-old yellow lab named Boomer.
I played rugby for more than 20 years and had the opportunity to play internationally, representing the United States. I competed in Ireland, Amsterdam, and Madrid, La Coruna, and Benidorm in Spain.
What is your favorite space on campus and why?
My favorite space anywhere is the gym at Johnston Hall! My heart always beats a little faster when I walk into the gym. I have so many fond memories there.
What is your favorite Moravian University tradition and why?
Move-In Day in the fall when everyone on campus—including President Grigsby and all of our student athletes—helps students move their belongings into their dorms.
What is your favorite thing to do with your free time and why?
I love spending time with my family. I have 19 nieces and nephews and 23 great nieces and great nephews! To them I am not Coach Spirk, I am Aunt Mary Beth or “AMB” for short. Each one of them is special in their own way. Whether we’re going to the beach or just hanging out at home they bring me great joy.
What book, film, song, or piece of art has so touched you that you find it enduring/unforgettable?
I have a deep admiration and respect for the late Tennessee Coach Pat Summit. Her book Reach for the Summit: The Definite Dozen System for Succeeding at Whatever You Do is filled with lessons learned by one of the greatest coaches of all time. I have learned from her and consider her to be one of my most impactful role models.
I can never resist a good _____.
Bucket of popcorn.
Who inspires you and why?
My mother has always been my inspiration. The older I get the more I appreciate what she overcame and what she did to raise us kids. She had eight children who all went to college. She kept a spotless house. She fed us—and most of the neighborhood kids—well, and on Saturday mornings she volunteered to help clean our parish church. She did all of this with a joyful spirit and a very loving nature. My mother was remarkable. My mother was an inspiration. My mother was a saint.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Don’t follow anyone else. Pursue your own dreams.
Share something that makes you happy.
Dogs and children make me happy.