DUANE: I held jobs through high school and I knew I wanted to expand on those opportunities and land that really solid job and be secure.
Money was, obviously, of consideration. But I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do or what I wanted that to be in. I had done sports my whole childhood and that was kind of where I excelled. After a few years in college, I realized, I could do this for a living. And that shaped my college path, a little bit.
I’m Dan Baum and you’re listening to Redefine U. Join us as we continue to explore what happens when we’re challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who we think we are.
For many, sports are a big part of growing up. Even non-athletes will sometimes identify themselves according to their school’s athletic mascot, especially in college when they become a Terp, a Retriever, or a Riverhawk.
In this episode, we talk to Duane Herr, AACC athletic director and alumnus, about his journey as a first-generation student and athlete. We also talk to Trey Anderson, coordinator for student athlete success, about what athletics can teach us — player and couch potato alike — about transformation.
First, Duane’s story.
DAN: Well, I'm excited, because, today, we are joined by our athletics director, Duane Herr. Welcome.
DUANE: I thank you for having me.
DAN: So tell us what is the role of Director of Athletics?
DUANE: Uh, it changes all the time, right? The role of Director of Athletics. I get to have the pleasure of overseeing our twelve athletic programs. With that comes the scheduling, all the games that we put in place with all of our competitors, the travel, transportation, making sure we have enough money to make sure all of that happens, as well as making sure that our facilities are up to where they need to be. Safe. Up to standard, with the current rules.
And then after all that stuff's done, it's the fun stuff and making sure the athletes are here and are supported enough to be able to go out there and compete.
DAN: Yeah, that's great. I think a lot of people may not realize, we have twelve sports. So what are the sports?
DUANE: So we have five sports in the fall. We have men's and women's cross country; Men's cross country being the newest edition. We have women's volleyball and we have men's and women's soccer. Then we transition, in November, to what we consider our winter sports of basketball, both men's and women's. And then, in January, we kick off the spring with men's and women's lacrosse, baseball, softball, and then golf.
DAN: Excellent. Keeps you busy.
DUANE: That's … It’s a lot of fun.
DAN: How long have you been at AACC?
DUANE: I celebrated nine years, in November.
DUANE: Thank you.
DAN: So, you were a student athlete. What was your sport? How did you get into it? Tell us a little bit about your early years.
DUANE: So, I'm a baseball player, later in life. Earlier in life, I did a little bit of bowling, as well, which kind of gave baseball a backseat for a little while.
DAN: I didn't know that.
DUANE: I was in the junior Olympics when I was twelve … this little guy out there amongst some giants to me, back then.
That took me through my childhood to some really cool opportunities: Las Vegas and Florida. Actually paid for my first year of college through the scholarship money I had earned...
DAN: Very good.
DUANE: Up until that point. Then, I jumped back into baseball my junior year of high school. Went relatively unnoticed. The baseball coach here actually reached out to a former teammate at the high school I went to, Glen Bernie, and said, "Hey, is there anybody out there that can play a little bit?" And he came out and watched and gave me a call in the summer and I was here in the fall.
DAN: So, when you were in high school and playing sports, what did you envision for yourself after high school?
DUANE: Oh gosh. Yeah. It's funny. My parents always instilled in me to have a desk job. My dad was a manual laborer and he said, "You need to go to school, get educated and have a desk job." Then I said, "OK, I guess that's what I aspire to do."
DAN: He didn't want you to fall in his footsteps is what you're saying?
DUANE: Yeah. I went to work with him a couple times, and I would agree, it was not the best opportunity, the best experience that I've ever had. You know, my parents wanted me to be educated, to have the opportunities they didn’t have. I'm a first generation college student. So …
DAN: Did you initially think that sports would take you to college or that you would go onto college and maybe play? How did they relate to each other?
DUANE: I wasn't entirely sure how good I was at the sport. You know, I did OK in my childhood and in high school and I just wanted to come out and compete and be a part of a team. So I really didn't see a tremendous future. I had aspirations of being in the major leagues. But you know, I never really knew what the reality of that was. I knew a lot of the guys on the team and they were phenomenal athletes from my memory of playing against them in high school. So I was just thrilled to be a part of that.
DAN: So when you first found yourself here, how did you feel about being either in college or at this college?
DUANE: Again, being a first generation, it was unchartered waters for us, for my family. I remember completing the FASFA and it was very foreign, so I was happy again to be here.
I remember my first class very well. It was an 8 a.m. Psychology course and that was my indoctrination into college, and boy was it. Full disclosure, the worst grade I got in college, that first class at 8 a.m. in the morning. So I learned a little bit from that experience itself. It was different and it wasn't. I'd left behind some friends and forged some new friendships early in that fall, especially with the baseball team.
But the one thing that sticks out to me and it's ironic now, he's a donor of one of our athletic scholarships, a former advisor here at the college. Remember going to visit him and sitting down and I had my mom with me and I'm an only child and he starts talking and she starts talking and he looks at me and says, who's going to college?
And that stuck. That was, that was it for me. And I tell him that story to this day and he said," Oh, I really said that. Did mom chase me out of the room?" And I said, "No." But I think we both learned a lot in that one comment that you made and that really set the path for this is my experience and I have to grow. It's time to move on.
DAN: What challenges did you face coming here or along the way?
DUANE: As I mentioned, I was a first generation student.
Grew up in Glen Burnie, born and raised. My father was a very hardworking man. We didn't have the most money in the world. He did everything he could to provide for us and give me every opportunity that I sought after and that he wanted for me. But certainly money was always an object. And when it came down to talking about college, I had some scholarship money set aside so I could get through the first year. But I worked a lot through the time that I was off, and I knew a scholarship going to the next level was probably my only opportunity. So, I was fortunate to land that. The financial piece of it was challenging. My father battled some illness through my first couple years of college and that presented some challenges for us. Ultimately with him passing soon after I graduated.
DAN: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
DUANE: So, it was a time for growth, as I mentioned, and that’s exactly what I had to do with everything that was going on in trying to forge a path for myself, not having maybe some of the resources that some of my peers had.
DAN: So what kind of support did you get along the way?
DUANE: My parents were still there, without a doubt, helping me through. It was great to be able to go home the first two years. I was here every night, have a meal cooked, start over the next day and do the grind again.
DUANE: My teammates were tremendous support to me. They became a second family. That transition from your high school friends into your new friends in college. That was seamless. And we really had a great relationship across the board. So I had them and my coaches were the people I saw most. Several hours a day at practice, office hours before or after just to kind of go in and have a place to go to. Our Athletic Trainer back then, really pretty much put me back together, to be able to go back out on the field every day. So I had a second family away from home that was really looking out for my best interests, which is tremendous for me to have that opportunity, and have those people in my corner.
Duane was a first-generation college student whose parents encouraged him to seek a desk job. But Duane also had a love of sport, which provided a second family when he needed it most.
Trey Anderson supports student athletes — in their studies at the community college and as they prepare for their futures. Let’s ask Trey about the sense of family in team sports and what that and athletics in general can teach us about transformation.
DAN: Tell me your official title and your role here at the college.
TREY: My title is coordinator for student athletes success, with the department of athletics here at AACC.
DAN: And how long have you been here?
TREY: This month makes my... Oh, one year one month now. So yeah.
DAN: One year. Congratulations.
TREY: Thank you.
DAN: Tell me a little bit about your day to day. What exactly do you do in this role?
TREY: In this role, essentially, one: monitor our student athletes' academics. So it could be anywhere from a class check to just meeting with them and reviewing their canvases to see where they are academically, find out what they're struggling in and then try to direct them to the right departments, if needed, to help them be successful.
So whether it be the math lab, writing lab or maybe they just need to find a way to reach out to the professor, because I do find that is a challenge for a lot of them. Just knowing that the professor is there to help you. It's just not classroom time, it's what office hours is for. So thing says such as that.
DAN: To put this in a little bit of perspective, you're the only person serving in this role. So how many sports do we have? And how many athletes do we typically have?
TREY: We have 12 sports with approximately 170, 180 student athletes.
DAN: Wow. That's a lot of people to be responsible for.
TREY: Correct. Yes.
DAN: What challenges do athletes typically face and how different or similar is that to other students?
TREY: So student athletes ... That is definitely one of the most challenging roles. So you're talking about the rigors of, depending on the program, this year we have our, we used to implement strength conditioning program and lacrosse was our pilot group, men's lacrosse, and they're waking up at 6:30 in the morning and getting here for workouts. So you're going to do a 6:30 a.m. workout, you're going to go to class, you have your enrichment hours to do. So they have four hours of enrichment hours they have to do every week, mandatory. And then of course once to season rolls around, they're going to have practice and then they're going to travel and have games. So student athletes' day can start easily at 6:00 a.m. and may not end till 8:00 p.m., and depending on where they are in the academic year, they may have to take a night class and it may end later. And being a junior college student athlete, even more challenging because some of our student athletes work. And some of them have responsibilities at home. So it's a whole lot of different things than your traditional student doesn't have to face.
DAN: Pretty demanding.
DAN: How do you help them overcome some of the challenges? What are some of the strategies that you use?
TREY: Time management. For some student athletes that they struggle. They don't really understand time management. I have a grid that we can sit down and we make and it kind of breaks down your class schedule, the practice schedule, the game schedule. Do you work? What responsibilities do you have a home? Your travel time? Different things to kind of map it out for them. But other than that it's typically just making sure I keep constant contact with the ones who do struggle to ensure that they’re on track. They're not distracted. To make sure that they know there is someone there that is supporting them.
DAN: You must work with others. There are other areas of the college, other resources. How do you team up with different parts of the college to help athletes?
TREY: Well, Duane Herr did a great job when I first got here, introducing me to a lot of people. And then once he kind of laid the foundation, I just walk around. Walk around and introduce myself and then eventually now we started doing joint programming.
So just building the bridges, going out and talking. I'm not a type of person that believes in picking up my phone or just emailing and saying "Thank you." I do believe in every once in a while you got to get out there and face to face. I know some people appreciate that more than just the cold responses.
DAN: What do our students hope to gain from participating in athletics?
TREY: Some of them, they just want to have fun. Some of our student athletes, they're just playing to play and there's no end goal. They're going to play their two years here and they're going to go to a four year school and just be regular students. But we do have quite a few students though whose goal is to transition. Whether it be transition back to a four year or transition for the first time, hopefully with an athletic scholarship. But some of them do have a desire to play at the next level. And there have been quite a few student athletes, since I've been here at least, in my short period, that have been successful in that process.
I think with being a student athlete, it definitely gives you a sense of purpose. Because, one thing I say about athletics is, when you're out there, you're representing the name of the school. You're representing the brand. I mean, there's a lot of different things and a lot of different groups on campus. But the main thing that most students look at, especially at the high school level, is, "What did I do in athletics? What sports do they have?" Or "How big is the sport? How diverse is the sport? What opportunities do they have?" So as an athlete, you, whether you want to be a not, you're the leader of the campus because you are the one person on campus who for sure, no matter what you do, you're wearing AACC. You're wearing your school’s name.
DAN: You’re representing.
TREY: You're wearing the River Hawk. Because everyone's going to know... who that student is, but if you see a student athlete, you're probably going to know this kid plays baseball. He's always wearing a baseball hoodie. She's always wearing a lacrosse hoodie. You know that they're student athletes.
DAN: And what drew you to get involved? You were a student athlete yourself?
TREY: I was, I played division three ball in Northville, Vermont at Norwich University, the military college. So that was a really even more of a challenge than what most student athletes deal with. Cause now you're talking about military obligations on top of athletic obligations and academic obligations.
DAN: Very disciplined environment.
TREY: It was a very disciplined environment.
DAN: And you coached as well?
TREY: I definitely coached. And still coach. Now I’m just coaching high school football. This was my first year of doing that. That was a very big challenge. Very big eye opener. Working at the college level, coaching at the college level this whole time, it definitely was a lot of struggles that I did not know that they dealt with at the high school level. Which, now the people that I work with and coach with, we have a lot of experience and we're taking that to kind of transition it over to the college level as well.
DAN: What about transformations that you've experienced? How would you say that you've changed in your self-perception over time?
TREY: I'll say that working in this field has definitely given me a strong level of patience. When I was a young gun and just got into coaching and that was how I got into the world of athletics. First it was, "This is how it needs to be done and do it this way and that's what it is." And then the more you get in depth, you realize there's so much going on. And we have to be a little understanding and you just can't be that mean coach anymore. So it definitely transformed me in that regard. Having good mentors who showed me how to outline things and to drive the mission of our department and really get involved. And then for me, I enjoy trying to get our student athletes involved with the community. Bringing them out, not just ours but other communities as well within the state of Maryland. Which is why we're doing some things coming up in the spring and that'll be very beneficial to athletics in the state of Maryland as a whole.
DAN: Since you were an athlete and you've gone through the experiences that our student athletes go through, do you share some of your experience with the students? And if so, what are their reactions?
TREY: I definitely do share. Some of them, being a kid that went to military college and played as a student athlete, once they hear that, they're just like, "Well there is no talking to you. Cause you already went through the worst experience possible." But I mean they understand. They know that pretty much everyone that they're around in our departments are former student athletes and we understand the struggles. We've been there, from whether it be a financial struggle or maybe life hit us real hard and you still have a whole season to play and it's just building that family amongst your teammates, amongst your coaches, the department. That that's how you kind of get through things.
DAN: So tell me a little more about how athletics teaches us, what athletics teaches us about the process of transformation and redefining.
TREY: Well the process that athletics kind of teaches is definitely being able to handle yourself under pressure. Definitely being able to make you know, adjustments on the fly. Because just like in the classroom where you're getting an assignment, you're on the field, something can happen and you may not know what to do right away. But you may not have the opportunity to stop and ask that question. You just need to go and get it done.
Coaching and being a former student athlete and seeing how things work, student athletes want a family when they play. Teams win when they’re family. If you just got a bunch of individuals out there playing, you might get lucky. You might have some winning seasons, you might even win a championship. But what you're trying to do is you're trying to build a lifelong connection with them. You want them to know that you care about them on and off the field. It's just now "We show up and we coach and we leave." It's so much more than that. And as a coach myself, we tell our student athletes at the end of every practice, if, if no one's told you today, I love you. And they say "We love you too, coach."
DAN: That’s awesome.
TREY: When you hear things like that, that just lets you know that we care and it helps them to become more comfortable in our own skin and helps them to become more comfortable in the classroom. It helps them open up and trust other people to want to have them get that support. Because a lot of times student athletes do feel as though they are on their own island. And then maybe like some people may not want to help us. But open them up to all those different services and open yourself up to them, they're starting to slowly build that trust level. And once they build that trust, now they know like "There's a lot of people out here who wants to help us. We just have to ask." And that's when you get that outstanding student athlete who's not just doing well on the field, on the court, they're also doing well in the classroom.
Trey told us about the challenges student athletes face, but also what they gain. He said athletics teaches players how to operate under pressure — to quickly accept changes on the field or court and make a choice for moving forward.
Trey echoed Duane when he talked about the team as family. That sense of connection and shared purposed is obviously a critical component of successful teams. I would argue all teams, not just those in sports.
Let’s hear the rest of Duane’s story. How did having the support of his team and coaches affect him and his future choices?
DAN: So what happened after AACC?
DUANE: So actually in the fall of my second season, my sophomore year here, I was recruited and signed a letter of intent with Towson University. So before I played in that spring, I had my set and my sights set on that opportunity, which was tremendous to me. You know, a division one institution to where I wanted to go since I was a child with a scholarship attached to it.
So it took a lot of the stress off of that second season, but also gave me aspirations as to what I wanted to grow into and, and go there. And I can tell you that was another major transition as I had, I'd never been away from the home. It's still a forty-five minute commute one way and then my parents were going a little dramatic about it. Like, it's down the road we can meet in fifteen minutes and have lunch. But that was a big change that we had. We were a close family and that was my first time away.
DAN: So that's a big leap for everybody.
DUANE: Yeah, it was.
DAN: So did your goals change as you progressed along the way?
DUANE: Yeah. I had intentions of being a Finance Major at Towson, and that changed relatively quickly when I got the opportunity to see a finance exam and realized that the next few years of my life would not be that. And my roommate introduced me to sport management, and even then I wasn't sure exactly what that was going to lead me to. I just knew that I was studying something that I really was passionate about, and that really provided the opportunity to come here, which was through the internship in that, in my senior year, I had to complete an internship and I contacted the coordinator of athletics, Bruce Springer here, and I said," Hey, can I come back? I didn't want to leave, but can I come back now and do this internship?" And he said," absolutely.”
So I came out. Timing is everything. The position opened up and I'm still here. I didn't want to leave then and I don't want to leave now. So …
DAN: So it all worked out.
DUANE: It all worked out.
DAN: Sounds like all of those experiences really prepared you for the role that you're in now.
DUANE: Yeah, I give a lot of credit to the experience I had. I would also give credit to at Towson after I played my junior year, I had surgery, which pretty much ended my career, and before that senior season and the coaches there allowed me to keep my scholarship, which without again probably would've been a struggle to get through that senior season and graduate.
DAN: Wow. Wow.
DUANE: So, I like to attribute a lot of that kindness and that support to my success, but also strive for that in our student athletes, and trying to provide a network for them in a support system where they can come to us and talk to us about anything that they need to and get the support they need to be successful in class, on the field and in life.
DAN: Tell me a bit about our students. How similar is your story to theirs? How different? What kind of students do we have that in our Athletics Program?
DUANE: I think we have a variety and I think that's the fun and all of it and the uniqueness and the diversity that we have. So, we certainly have students that face significant challenges, and they fight through with support. And we just want to provide the support for them to be able to do that, if they need another person to support them. And then, we also have student athletes that have it pretty figured out and there's a lot to be learned from them. And it's inspiring to see they have a plan, they have a vision and they know how to strive for that.
So we get a variety and there are some student athletes that they're here to be a part of something and compete with teammates. And this might be the only season or the only two seasons they play. And that's perfectly fine with all of us. And then we do have athletes that have aspirations to move on to the four year level. And we always tell athletes their goals become our goals. And I truly mean that because, everybody could have a different path and everybody has a different story. So whatever their story needs to be or they want it to be, we want to provide the tools for them to, to accomplish that.
DAN: What is your vision for the program?
DUANE: I have grand visions of building, of growth.
I have goals of facility revamps and creating an atmosphere, a competitive atmosphere that is among the best that our athletes will play on. That, I think to me, is one of the reasons you participate is travel and getting to play on high quality fields, and in the high quality arenas. So, that's certainly something that I strive for, but it all comes back down to the student athlete. And, without them, we don't have a program. So how do we engage more student athletes? How do we create more partnerships and more bridges with our high school partners to get more student athletes here? How do we communicate our message and share our story so that athletes understand and buy in and want to be a part of that? And then ultimately when they get here, how do we get them, how do we take on those goals that they have and help them achieve those?
DAN: Well, along with the vision and growth of the program, you've continued to grow and learn. What are some of the things that you do for yourself for professional development? How do you see yourself continuing to grow?
DUANE: I've been to the lead AACC program. I've also been through the coaching program here at the college and I have aspirations for future development and education for myself, but a lot of it to me is just geared around how do I become a better person. I would say the, the biggest lesson I've learned has been through being a father. that's probably been the biggest life lesson in just patience and understanding other people's needs and not necessarily jumping to fix those needs, but guiding to how do you get there on your own. And that goes back to the coaching and training of everybody might have their own perception or be stuck somewhere and they have the tools to get out of it. But how do we communicate that to them?
DAN: What does athletics teaches us about transformation and becoming?
DUANE: I like to think that we teach leadership skills, but ultimately it comes down to teamwork and every game and every opportunity and every practice you're faced with adversity. You're faced with adversity. You're faced with an obstacle, you have a challenge to overcome something else, someone else to achieve. And you don't always win that challenge. And I think we learned the most through our failures.
So I think just in facing that additional adversity through athletics, our student athletes are getting challenged even more and learning how to work together. If they're problem solving internally to become a better person and individual, they're also doing that with their teammates and they're overcoming the challenge that further they're learning through the challenges. They might not win on that particular day, but ultimately our goal is development. There will be a tremendous coaches that are really working to develop our student athletes from where they are to where they can be, where they need to be, and just providing that opportunity. We like to think that when they come in, we're helping them grow to become a better person. It might not be that they won a championship, but they're going to carry those learning experiences with them for the rest of their lives.
DAN: A lot of life lessons there.
What about changes in your own self-perception? If you look back to who you were, going back to your time here at AACC and comparing it to now, what, what changes do you see?
DUANE: Gosh, I was naïve. Man, I've learned a lot and I've learned a lot through some of those failures and mistakes and I like to think that's humbled me in ways and taught me many life lessons, but I still remain hungry. I still want to do more, but I just remember people taking a chance on a young professional to lead a program and trying not to mess that up too bad and then seeing how I could continue doing that if they would let me continue to doing that.
I'd have to say one of my biggest supporters and my best teammates so far has been my wife who, ironically, reconnected our relationship here and turned that into an engagement. And we've been married now for twelve years.
DAN: No kidding. Congratulations.
DUANE: She inspires me every day.
So I've been lucky and fortunate enough to grow and learn under tremendous leaders and every leader that I had here with support from a lot of good people around me.
So I didn't do anything on my own. I had a lot of support from people that kept me going and kept me going in the right direction.
DAN: How would you say if you would say you've redefined yourself?
DUANE: I would say in high school I was unsure about college at all. I wasn't sure what my path was. I had the advice of go get a desk job working for me.
But I would say now I, I, I tell people I get to come to school every day and I learn every day. But I get to come here, which is a place I didn't think I would maybe even get to come to as a student. And now I get to come in and do it as a career. So I think I still have a lot of the same foundation, but I've just grown to now be the support system for other students that come through. So I've used what I've learned to implement to others.
DAN: From what I can tell, you’re doing an outstanding job. Congratulations.
DUANE: Well, thank you.
Sports play a large in role in many people’s lives, especially in this area where opportunities for participants, coaches and fans abound.
Playing sports requires dedication, especially from student athletes who already have a lot on their plate. But in return, they gain valuable skills learned on the field or court that can be applied to a life beyond — perseverance, dedication, learning from failures, and the tremendous value of family.
We often think of family in the traditional sense — parents, children, grandparents — but we can expand that definition to groups with shared circumstances, values and purpose. A family of baseball players. A family of education students. A family of podcasters.
These second families are where we can build lifelong connections with the people who will love and support us when we need it most.
Where is your second family? If you haven’t found yours yet, maybe it’s time to seek them out. They’re out there and you want them in your corner. Because as we’ve heard in previous episodes, having a team of supporters is what helps us win the biggest games.
Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College.
Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch.
Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.
Others who helped with this podcast include Angie Hamlet, Alicia Renehan, and Ben Pierce.
Special thanks to Duane Herr and Trey Anderson.
Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website: aacc.edu/podcast.
I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.