HALIFAX, NS- In February, 49 Sports spoke with UPEI athletic director Jane Vessey. As you will see below, she’s been in the business of handling big tasks for a while, especially in sports. COVID-19, however, provided one of her biggest challenges to date.
Before being named athletic director in November 2020, Vessey was hard at work with COVID-19 operational plans for both the athletic department and the entire university itself. Since joining UPEI in 2018, a lot of her work has been outside of athletics as well, as the school’s manager of ceremonies and events.
The Charlottetown native was named interim athletic director in September 2020, before being promoted midway through the first semester. She replaced Chris Huggan, who left the department in September. Although she’s just beginning her five-year term, Vessey said she has some big plans for UPEI’s place in the AUS and in PEI sports in the seasons to come. Well, once the region recovers from the pandemic in the near future.
Conversation has been edited for grammar and clarity
49: First Jane, after graduating from UPEI in 2003, you worked in several management and consulting jobs for organizations like the Rick Hansen Foundation, the Olympic torch relay in Vancouver and the Invictus Games in 2017 (in Toronto?). How have you used these experiences in your work at UPEI so far?
Vessey: I think because of all these things I’ve done, I’m fortunate to bring a diverse skill set to the table. And that’s thanks to being in progressively responsible roles in the public and private sectors, plus in sport and university settings. So I’d say I have extensive knowledge in how sport governing bodies work and how sports events are executed and also how they interact with the overall mission of a post-secondary institution.
49: In such an extraordinary time in the past year, do you feel starting off as interim director made for a smoother transition into your promotion in November? Or is there such a thing as a smooth transition nowadays?
Vessey: I would say it definitely helped. I got to know the team at athletics and recreation since I’ve been at UPEI, but after working with them over those few months [as interim director of athletics], it actually got me more involved with them. In my previous role I had the opportunity to work on UPEI’s Operational Easeback Plan for when the students, staff and faculty were returning back, and that gave me a lot of first-hand experience in the realm of COVID operations which I believe helped me here at athletics and recreation. We began to belt out our return to play operation plans after that.
49: A significant undertaking by some AUS athletic directors, including yourself, in the fall was creating the AUS return-to-play plan. What can you tell me about working with the AUS Return-To-Play Committee and so many different parties (like your student-athletes and Prince Edward Island Public Health), especially over a few very busy weeks in the fall?
Vessey: There was no question COVID-19 wreaked havoc on all aspects of our lives, including athletics. And there are definitely some challenges ahead. But I’ve been so impressed with our student-athletes and coaches and athletics team, they’ve been so resilient during this time. It’s the same with all the AUS colleagues I worked with. I thought our plan was really solid. We were cautiously optimistic as we worked really hard [on the plan]. We work really well together.
49: My next question focuses on moving ahead. What will be your next big task in this COVID-19 season for you in preparation for next year?
Vessey: The immediate priority will be to continue offering Panther-driven competition and training here on PEI. It’s really about trying to create the best student-athlete experience that we can during these unprecedented times. As far as going into the future and fall season, what I hope to do is to introduce new processes and ideas in my role that can help provide stability and support to the department, so teams and coaches can really focus on competing and contending for championships.
49: On that topic, how much Panthers exhibition competition should we expect this year?
Vessey: It would all be on-Island, obviously given where we’re at. But what we’ve been implementing are a lot of scrimmages. The women’s hockey team is one example; they’ve been playing against U15 AAA boys teams. We’ve been finding unique ways to get student-athletes some forms of competition. It’s thinking outside-the-box.
49: In the long run, what do you look forward to doing for UPEI athletics and the AUS through your term?
Vessey: As I said, there are some processes and policies that I would like to see implemented [at UPEI]. But then, overall, UPEI’s relationship with the Island’s sports community is vitally important for us. We’re fortunate to have great coaches and great community supporters, and as we move toward a new normal and back toward a return to play, it would be important for us to explore ways to reconnect and engage with the broader community.
49: Is there anything I haven’t asked you today about your role and work that you would like to add?
Vessey: I know that about the AUS, I haven’t quite had the opportunity to meet everyone around the conference yet. But my colleagues have been so phenomenal to work with and welcoming. And that was all by Zoom, so I can’t wait to actually meet them. But for me jumping in, they’ve all been really supportive for me in my role.
49: There were some pressing tasks at hand too while meeting everyone for the first time, with only about three weeks to put together a plan in the fall.
Vessey: Yeah, and again I felt like I was in a fortunate place because I worked on the COVID-19 operational plan for the university, so I felt I could give some strong input based on what I experienced with working with PEI’s public health office and the university’s plan. That really helped me transition into my responsibilities.
Cover Photo: University of Prince Edward Island