Saint Mary’s athletic director Brian Sisson has a unique perspective for what life is like for a student athlete.
Not only is he a former student athlete himself — having played soccer at Loyola-Chicago — but he spent his first seven months on the job living on campus at Saint Mary’s.
While his wife Kaitlin and children Landon and Elin stayed back in Illinois where he worked previously as the associate director of athletics at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., he moved to Winona on his own and got a feel for on-campus life.
“First and foremost, being away from family is never easy,” Sisson said. “But it was a great experience. People that I work with here every day from coaches and staff to administrators were all supportive. I had everything I needed living here on campus.
“But it was helpful in connecting with students. I had my place and my role and I wasn’t crazy active in connecting with students there. But at the same time, the interaction with them was good and I learned how residents life is here.”
His wife and kids finally made the move to Winona about a month ago and they’re settling in as a family. He says his kids enjoyed Steamboat Days last week and they’re enjoying finding things to keep them busy.
But he certainly hasn’t had a problem keeping himself busy through his first school year on campus.
Sisson started at Saint Mary’s on Oct. 1 and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. He says that as hard as it was to be without his family for the first few months, it was almost a positive. It afforded him the opportunity to really buckle down and focus on his huge new job.
“The big thing for me that is always a challenge is the balancing aspect,” he said. “There’s not one way to do it, it’s about how you involve your family in what you do. Obviously, family is family and it’s important. But it’s keeping them involved in the lifestyle. Like with any first years, there’s goods and bads and you learn things. I think for me, you just have to stay high energy and stay active.”
Sisson’s focus so far has been on reaching out in the community and across the area to make connections and build relationships. He wants to create more of a presence for Saint Mary’s within the community.
When he started the job, he reached out and met with every staff member within the athletics department. And he reached out and got to know his fellow athletic directors around the MIAC. He says he took trips to meet every other AD and as a newcomer to Minn. he is enjoying learning all of the towns throughout the state.
“We just want to get out and let people know that Saint Mary’s is here,” Sisson said. “Whether it’s our staff, our student athletes, any combination. We also would love to get involved with other organizations and we would love to open up opportunities for people to reach out. Whether it’s local chamber events or community events, we want to get out and spread awareness throughout the community.”
One major accomplishment the athletic director can put on his resume for his first school year on the job is securing a branding deal with Under Armour. While apparel and branding isn’t the ba-all and end-all to success for an athletics program, it can have a big impact on enticing athletes to be a part of the program.
“When you’re trying to connect with 18-to 24-year-old kids, those things matter,” Sisson said. “Branding from an apparel side to facilities. We’re in a day and age where that stuff matters. Having a uniform look good — we’re in a visual day and age. That’s where all the eyeballs are. I don’t think it wins a game, but at the same time, we understand what it does. We’ve seen a lot of positives from that relationship.”
And going forward he wants to work with the community and alumni base to create new fundraising opportunities. At Lewis, he was in charge of athletic fundraising and spearheaded efforts that generated $2.3 million and created signature events that helped to raise money for the department. He hopes to do similar things at Saint Mary’s.
“We’re looking to revamp our annual fund for athletics for athletics — our fundraising arm for annual support. In addition, we’re looking to launch a signature event for athletics in the spring of 2020 and trying to start a tradition there,” he said. “We just want to see what we can do to provide a unique experience and at the same time gather even more support.”
But for now, he’s focusing on wrapping up his first year on the job and getting ready for his first school year with in Winona with his family.