When the search for a new athletic director failed, a familiar face began to settle back in as we entered a global pandemic. Joanne Renn returned to Virginia Wesleyan University as Executive Athletic Director after a short, two-year retirement. This retirement itself followed a 25-year career at the university.
Prior to her role as the first female Athletic Director at Virginia Wesleyan and in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, Renn was a head coach for both women’s basketball and tennis teams.
After retiring in May 2018, Renn worked for the National Park Service as a field educator at Shenandoah National Park. For 14 weeks, Renn patrolled a 105-mile area from Rockfish Gap to Front Royal, Virginia, walking the trails and tending to new and lost hikers. She spent the following month in Nepal having “the trip of a lifetime” hiking and trekking around Mount Everest.
“I’ve been having fun and enjoying my retirement, Dr. Miller calls it my ‘two-year sabbatical,” Renn said.
Despite having fun, returning back to VWU was not a difficult decision for Renn. “With the whole virus thing, we’re all feeling so disconnected and isolated… and when Dr. Miller reached out it didn’t take much for me to say ‘Sure, let’s give it a shot,” Renn said.
Renn returned to many familiar faces and did not feel too disconnected from the students and staff when coming back. Sports Information Director Alysse Scipter interned under Renn during her senior year at ODU, and noticed that the Marlin community had all known Renn as “Coach Renn” even as an athletic director. “Coach’s return has really been like welcoming back a member of the family, and that’s one of the things I think is so great about VWU, it feels like family. And that is something that was really developed and cultivated under Renn,” Scripter said.
Coach Renn has been persistent in her efforts to ensure that the student athlete experience is of high quality in this challenging time we are living in. While she returned to VWU trying to navigate sports through uncertainties and a pandemic, Renn has still been “a strong voice and figurehead for the Marlins in the ODAC and in expressing how we would like to pursue this year,” Scripter said.
Virginia Wesleyan University athletics draws so many athletes and coaches because of its culture and family-like community. “As coaches, we say our players create the culture we want… and she [Renn] epitomizes that. She’s creating a winning culture with community and family values and just really gets our student athletes and has their best interest at heart,” said Head Men’s Basketball Coach David Macedo, one of Renn’s first hires at VWU.
Renn had been named as the interim athletic director back in July, but due to the ongoing pandemic concern Miller described keeping her for the entire academic year. “In our response to the global pandemic, it is important for us to maintain a level of consistency in our Office of Intercollegiate Athletics. Therefore, we have suspended the search for a permanent athletic director,” Miller said.
“I felt supported by the staff and that they were working very very hard to make me feel comfortable once I was back. It really is like in some ways it’s like I never left,” Renn said.