By: Director of Athletic Communications and Public Relations Kevin Ruple
BEREA, Ohio -- When Natalie Winkelfoos '03 was playing basketball at Baldwin Wallace University in the early 2000s, she was best known as an intelligent team leader and tenacious defender on a number of Yellow Jacket championship teams. Today, she utilizes that same intelligence, effort and ingenuity at nearby Oberlin College, and is regarded as one of the top NCAA Division III directors of athletics.
She's a Favorite for Many Reasons
"Natalie was the favorite of fans and teammates alike," said BW Senior Woman Administrator and Head Basketball Coach Cheri Harrer. "Her infectious enthusiasm and energy was visible every time she stepped on the court. She played with heart, passion and sacrificed her body and own glory for the good of the team – whatever was needed to win.
"Natalie was never the in-your-face or cheerleader type of leader," continued Harrer. "Instead, she formed great relationships, led by-example and knew when to lighten the mood to help everyone be at their best."
Respected as a Player and Professional
Julie Work '98, who is the Assistant Executive Director at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, has worked with Winkelfoos both as a coach and administrator, and feels she is years ahead of many of her contemporaries.
"I had the good fortune of helping recruit Natalie to BW during my senior year at BW, and I continued to help coach her from the sideline during her freshman season," said Work, who was an All-American at BW and then became the Assistant Commissioner for Media Relations & Information at the Ohio Athletic Conference before joining NACDA. "The way she carried herself on and off the court showed you that no matter what, she was going to find a way to make everyone better.
"Natalie has always been at the forefront of anything she does, whether it is on the court or off," said Work. "You will never see her back down from her views and beliefs. She has a way of engaging individuals and making you believe that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. She currently serves on the Board of the Women Leaders in College Sports, a national organization, which is a testament to all of the work that she has accomplished.
Why is She Successful?
Winkelfoos' accomplishments at Oberlin are many and among them are her prodigious ability to raise the resources to benefit the entire OC athletics program. It has already helped raise the bar in athletics there."
Harrer also believes her former player can help BW while still doing great things at Oberlin.
"Oberlin has undergone incredible transformation athletically, and Natalie created a vision, got the right people in place and equipped her coaches for success with resources and support," said Harrer.
"With that said, I'm excited for her vision for our Brown & Gold Club," said Harrer. "She is always thinking about what is possible and works toward that end – she thinks big!"
Why Her Work at Oberlin is Helping to Shape the Brown & Gold Club
" I think the way Natalie has advanced her career so quickly is a testament to her work ethic," said Work. "She served in various roles (coach, assistant AD, associate AD, building supervisor etc.) on campus prior to her appointment in 2012 (serving as interim AD twice), so to me it was only a matter of time before she earned the top spot for good. She has already accomplished a myriad of things at such a young age, and the sky is the limit for her.
"Natalie has an infectious personality and is someone that shows you how much she cares, while having fun," said Work. "The money that she has been able to raise, more than 30-million dollars to date, including an 8-million lead gift for the Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex, is second to none.
"Natalie realizes that it is all about the relationships and connecting with individuals, not just about the dollars," continued Work. "You can't just ask someone for millions of dollars, you have to show them that you have a vested interest in learning more about them and their interests. Natalie has a way of connecting with people personally, making them want to be a champion for her and Oberlin athletics."
Why Did She Choose BW, and Why it was a Great Move for Her
"I fell in love with BW the moment I stepped foot on campus," said Winkelfoos, who was among the nation's best Div. III three-point shooters when she laced up her shoes for Harrer. "It was the people at BW that swept me off my feet. This was an environment that put its promises into action.
"I received a solid education," continued Winkelfoos, "but more than that, I was pushed and challenged by so many on campus to be so much more/ I was encouraged to be curious about my place in the world.
"With that said, my greatest experience was having the opportunity and privilege of being part of the women's basketball team led by Cheri Harrer.," said Winkelfoos. "Coach magnified the importance of making hard work a passion, and if you did it, success would follow.
"I learned to lead because of BW women's basketball," said Winkelfoos. "I learned how to collaborate and overcome adversity because of BW women's basketball. I learned how to handle victory and defeat with grace because of BW women's basketball. …and I have never had more fun than I did with my teammates of BW women's basketball. I know now that choosing BW was a choice that has only moved me forward personally and professionally. BW has been one of my greatest teachers and one of my most rewarding adventures.
Winkelfoos is a Success at Oberlin
"Success has found me at Oberlin College because I have surrounded myself with really great people on a mission to make the student-athlete experience better," said Winkelfoos. " We have been thoughtful, patient and focused in our approach in how to make this a destination where high academics and athletics can live together in harmony.
"We have found a way to honor our past while creating our future." continued Winkelfoos. " BW is on the right path, especially with the recent launch of the Brown & Gold Club. So many people are grateful for their experience with BW athletics and giving back to your alma mater of their time, talent and treasure is an obvious way to say 'thank you' to the institution
Her Commitment to Her Alma Mater
With this said, I, along with the rest of the Brown & Gold board are committed to joining forces with the BW administration to make Bagley Road a stopping-place for top-flight scholar-athletes," said Winkelfoos. "But we must be intentional with our efforts, enthusiastic with our strategy and patient with the process.
"Alumni can play a large role in determining the future and continued development of an athletics department," said Winkelfoos. "Because of the Brown & Gold Club, we have now an opportunity to be one team pushing for the advancement of all of BW athletics.
"My reconnection has been incredibly rewarding," said Winkelfoos. "I am a product of this institution and by giving back my time, talent and treasure I am hopeful that I can impact BW the way it has me."