St. Mary’s coaches had little to say about this fact of Fondale’s employment because it had no bearing on the job she’s done as their AD. “She’s always talking sports. (She asks) what did you think of that game last night,” football coach Jason Budroni said. “She’s like one of the guys when it comes to that.”
Meanwhile, students like junior Maggie Aumiller are excited about it and see her as an inspiration.
“She’s been through the process as a high school girl who wants to play lacrosse or basketball or whatever sport you want to play in college,” said Aumiller, a lacrosse and basketball player. “She’s been there, she has experience, so you can always ask her for advice with that too.”
In Fondale’s fourth year as St. Mary’s athletic director, the department is winning league titles and growing as a community, and those who know her can’t say enough good things about her.
“This is an athlete’s AD,” said swimming coach Allyson Reiter, “because of her knowledge of their goals, their strengths and their weaknesses. She works toward making their experience here as an athlete at St. Mary’s the best it can be.”
Fondale (born Allison Valentino) was drawn to sports from the get-go. She played ice hockey with her older brother and male cousins as a child and was a three-sport standout in high school. Lacrosse turned out to be her specialty. At Loyola in Baltimore, she was honored as a third-team All-American in 1996 and second-teamer in 1997, and the Greyhounds made three Final Fours during her career.
She took a job on Duke University’s lacrosse coaching staff and worked up to associate head coach before getting the chance to return to her home state. She worked at the University of Maryland for a few years under Cindy Timchal, the winningest head coach in Division I women’s lacrosse, and Debbie Yow, the first female athletic director in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
Ohio University hired Fondale as its new head coach in July 2005, but the January before the 2007 season of competition began, the university announced it was cutting four sports for budget reasons, including women’s lacrosse.
Fondale had seen Ohio as a opportunity for growth, but with the surprise decision that left her without a program or a job, an idea began brewing in the back of her mind: a second career in athletic administration.
“When something like that happens, it makes you look at the entire big picture and how things were handled and the decision-making process,” Fondale said. “That decision affected my life, but I didn’t really look at it as much for me as how it affected the 30 girls on our team and some of them who committed to this school to be a part of our program. But it also forced me personally to look at athletics in general.”
By this time, though, Timchal had become the head coach at the Naval Academy and needed to build a new staff. They reunited in Annapolis, and Fondale was most recently the Mids’ associate head coach until the St. Mary’s job became open in 2014.
“I had an alum of the school call and say, ‘I think this could be a great opportunity for you. Is this something that you would consider?’” she said. “And certainly once I met with the administration here, I realized it was the right opportunity for me.”
At St. Mary’s, Fondale oversees an athletic program of around 80 coaches and 36 teams from the freshman level through varsity. Students and coaches who know her list a litany of positive attributes: supportive, prepared, approachable, dedicated, loyal to the school, a leader, a friend and “an advocate for the student-athlete.”
“Competing in the MIAA is a very high level so obviously there’s a tendency to get heated, and there’s adverse situations and exchanges,” said senior swimmer and lacrosse player Jimmy Hayburn. “But what she herself reflects that I think is exhibited throughout the program is a reflection of sportsmanship first. What that kind of means is winning with class and losing with class.”
“What I like most about Allison is she’s coached at such a high level, so she gets it, not only as an AD but as a coach,” Budroni said. “She knows what it takes to get teams ready, what we need, recruiting, practice, she’s all about it.”
Most sports aren’t as popular as lacrosse or football, but St. Mary’s coaches never feel left out in the cold.
“Even though cross country is this sort of ‘non-revenue,’ low-key sport, she makes you feel like you’re the lacrosse coach,” cross country coach Tom Smith said. “I have coached at other institutions where cross country isn’t even on the AD’s radar. It’s very refreshing to see an AD that knows all your kids on the team. She comes to cross country races. She cheers for your team.”
Not unlike cross country is the sailing team, in just its second year of varsity status after being a longtime club offering. Though the IAAM and MIAA don’t host sailing, the Saints’ team operates out of Annapolis Yacht Club and competes with other local schools in the fall and spring.
“Being on the water, sailing made sense for St. Mary’s,” Fondale said.
St. Mary’s sports won a school-record six league championships in Fondale’s first year, five of them at the varsity level. Most recently, the Saints clinched the IAAM B Conference girls’ soccer and MIAA B Conference football titles in the fall 2017 season. They won both championship games over rival Severn School.
Fondale appreciates the tradition St. Mary’s has in its historic rivalries with both Severn and Annapolis High School.
“It’s just something our student body rallies around those to gain momentum in our school. That’s school spirit,” Fondale said. “When we play Severn you’ll see both sides are just as spirited. It’s fun and it’s exciting to be a part of that. I was a part of Army-Navy and (it’s) kind of the same thing, where that game, you circle that game on your schedule. That’s unique.”
When St. Mary’s played Severn in the football regular season finale on the afternoon of Nov. 4, most (if not all) of the student section traveled from that game to Anne Arundel Community College to catch the two schools face off that evening in the girls’ soccer B Conference championship.
“One of the things that I’m proud of is our coaches all support each other in that same way,” Fondale said with a touch of pride. When St. Mary’s played in its first volleyball championship match last year, she said, “Our football coach is there. Our swim coach is there.
“For our field hockey coach to be successful, then our swim coach needs to be successful, and they have to support each other and they have to work together,” she said.
Hayburn also said Fondale incorporates the school’s Catholic tradition into the athletic department well. Fondale instituted an “athletes’ Mass,” open to the public, that takes place to start every sports season.
“That is really one of my favorite events of the entire year,” Fondale said.
She’s also overseen the construction of the school’s team house at their home turf, Pascal Field on Bestgate Road, which opened in October. The athletic department is now preparing a 70-yard-long grass practice field to complement the playing field and team house, with hopes for it to be ready for the spring season.
Saints who plan to play their sports collegiately are guided in part by Fondale’s many connections. Hayburn will follow his sister and fellow St. Mary’s grad Annie Hayburn to Loyola, Fondale’s alma mater. Aumiller has verbally committed to play lacrosse at Navy.
“(Fondale’s) door is always open, which I think is the best thing about her,” Aumiller said. “She’s very dedicated and wants the student-athletes to succeed now and for our future.”
Fondale called herself “blessed” to have learned from a range of top-notch coaches and administrators, from Navy AD Chet Gladchuck and his personal approach, to Yow, whom Fondale said she got to observe from afar in meetings.
“I wanted to make sure I made the most of those opportunities and learned from all of those different people, because they really provided for me great learning experiences. Debbie Yow and Cindy Timchal have really had these great careers in athletics,” she said.
“I hope that I’m able to take a lot of those learning experiences and bring them to the high school level. That was really my goal.”
The Fondale File
Education: Atholton High School (1993); bachelor’s in psychology (1997) and master’s in clinical psychology (1998) from Loyola University Maryland
Sports: Lacrosse at Loyola; soccer, basketball and lacrosse in high school
Coaching: Coached women’s lacrosse at Duke University (associate head coach in 2004, assistant in 1999-2003 seasons), University of Maryland (assistant coach, 2005-06), Ohio University (head coach, 2006-07) and Naval Academy (associate head coach, 2007-14)
Personal: Married. Husband, Joseph Fondale (eight years). Daughters: Elaine, 6, and Claire, 4.