Sara Shoffner: Hawking the Course
There comes a time when one must choose between riding in the golf cart and leaving the safe and cushy confines to put yourself behind the club. For Dr. Sara Shoffner, her riding-in-the-cart days ended at about age six. She won her first tournament at age seven. She’s been hitting the game hard ever since, whether the challenge is golf, academics, teaching, parenting, or playing any sport—all while wearing a mischievous, dynamite-comes-in-small-packages smile as wide as she is tall.
“I like the strategy—the technical aspects,” she says, green eyes flashing as if she has just uncovered a secret. “I like to take this and make it better. I am passionate about taking initiative to design a better way to improve the present situation and make the future brighter.”
Baylor High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., her alma mater, was and is well-known for lining their shelves with state championship trophies, and Sara was on four state champion golf teams in her high school years. The school is also challenging academically. “It was a really neat place to be a part of,” she says. “It fed my love for golf and my love of learning.”
Between her high school teammates and individual golf tournaments during the summers, Sara played with or against many of the top golfers in the state, winning the Tennessee Girls Junior Amateur Championship title in 2005, the summer before her senior year. She made a hole-in-one in a high school match. “I had two hole outs for eagle that day. It is a round I will never forget,” she says.
At Ole Miss, her college of choice, she played in every tournament for all four years, serving as captain, being named All-SEC, and finishing in the top five in the 2010 SEC Tournament her senior year. She was the 2008 Alabama State Women’s Amateur Champion and a semifinalist in the US Public Links National Championship in 2010.
A business administration major, she says, “When I graduated from college, I considered three options: playing golf professionally; coaching at a college; or becoming a golf instructor. I didn’t pursue any of them because nothing felt exactly right. I tell my students all the time—it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life, but it’s not okay if you don’t do anything about it.” At that crossroad, she chose to intern with the University of Mississippi Office of Student-Athlete Academic Services, where she mentored, tutored, and trained athletes on study skills, time management, and related success skills. “I loved it. Knowing how much I loved what I was doing, I thought about how much I loved helping my teammates get better with their golf game and study for tests during college. I love helping people, and again, I love learning.”
Sara earned her MBA and met her now husband, Jonathan, in college. His military service called them to El Paso, Texas, where she, competitive to her pointy-toed now Texan boots, took up barrel racing, roping, and lived the Texas version of gaming, which was nothing like golf. After a deployment, Jonathan left military service and the couple moved to Troy, Alabama. Sara began work toward her doctorate at Troy University, picking up experience through internships in athletics and career services, which she refers to as “the heartbeat of getting kids jobs.” She also taught college classes and says that’s when she knew what she was meant to do. She has the distinction of being the first-ever doctoral graduate in Troy University’s first-ever doctoral program. During her last semester of doctoral work, she joined the faculty at Huntingdon in the Department of Sport Science and Physical Education.
Today, she teaches, mentors students in the Presidential Fellows Sports Media and Marketing Team and students in the Kingswood Initiative team of the same name, serves as Faculty Athletic Representative, chairs the Department of Sport Science and Physical Education (the largest academic department at Huntingdon), partners with the Center for Career and Vocation to teach and counsel students toward their next steps, teaches CALL 100 classes to freshmen who are discerning what they are called to do, and readily assists the Office of Admission in recruiting students. “I love wearing different hats,” she says. “The work I do in my different roles allows me to see the bigger picture so that I can positively contribute to the institutional mission and goals in each of those roles. Developing relationships with students is a joy.” She’s also a mom to daughters Madelyn, age 4, and Mallory, age 2, who frequently accompany her to athletic events on campus.
Sara approaches the classroom with the same perspective as a coach takes on a new team. “Coaches never have exactly the same team twice,” says Sara. “They take a team of different people every year and are expected to figure out how to make that team successful. It’s all about getting the best you can from each individual. To do that, you have to know them. You have to meet them where they are.”
“I believe in every student in my classroom,” she continues. “Everyone is at potential. They might need motivation, or they might need to overcome barriers, or they might need to see the big picture, and I can give them that perspective. My mission is to meet them where they are and show them how they can be the best they can be.”
Clearly, she has found her niche. “I love the transformation that happens years one through four in college,” she says. “Students grow up. I love being part of their journey to self-discovery. I’ve found that I really have a heart for freshmen. They are navigating a whole new system, transitioning into who they will be as adults and into the world.”
In a way, one could say that Dr. Shoffner’s life has come full circle. On June 1, she will become associate dean of faculty and associate professor of sport management. Drawing on her own experience of playing the course as a teacher, she will climb back into the cart to observe and coach other faculty members as well as students. She sees little difference in the methods she will use to improve the system and coax the best performance out of her peers. “It’s about casting a vision and carrying it out,” she says. “I love working with people, encouraging and activating leadership.”
Lately, she’s been casting a line into the rivers of North Carolina, learning fly-fishing. No surprise, she mastered the grand slam of fly fishing by catching all three types of fish (brook, brown, and rainbow trout) on her first trip.
Golf visor, fishing cap, hunting cap, professorial beret, cowboy hat … no matter what’s on her head for the task at hand, you can bet that there’s great thought and a lot of heart and energy behind every action. Sara Shoffner has developed a plan, has an endless stream of ways to perfect it, and will be wearing a smile as big as Huntingdon to encourage others along the way.
Huntingdon College is committed to a policy against legally impermissible, arbitrary, or unreasonable discriminatory practices. Therefore, the College, in accordance with applicable federal and state law and stated College policy, prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, age and/or national origin. Inquiries and/or complaints may be addressed to: Huntingdon College Title IX Coordinator, 1500 East Fairview Ave., Montgomery, AL 36106; TitleIXCoordinator@hawks.huntingdon.edu; or 334-833-4420.