COLUMBIA — Packed into the stands at Southwell Complex, as fans decked out in blue and white Columbia College apparel scream and cheer, it often slips Cindy Fotti’s mind that she’s actually at work.
In her fifth year since graduating from Columbia College with a master of arts in teaching, Fotti remains at the school as the assistant athletic director in charge of media relations and compliance. Fotti immediately fell in love with Columbia College when she transferred from Three Rivers Junior College in Poplar Bluff and simply refuses to leave. In her administrative role, she has grown closer with coaches and athletes and has become, as she says, the both the school's and the Cougars’ No. 1 fan.
“I have just really fallen in love with sports,” Fotti said. “During the games it doesn’t feel like work. I’m here to cheer on the Cougars, who I support, who I love. I just have that affinity for Columbia College.”
In January 2005, at the beginning of Fotti’s final semester as a student at Columbia College, the school’s assistant athletic director, Amber Cox, left to become the director of marketing for the Phoenix Mercury. Two years before Cox’s departure, Fotti had begun to assist the athletic department, working at the facilities during games and helping with the Web site and publications.
When Cox left, Fotti was the only person who knew how to complete all of her duties, and she stepped into the role until the school hired a replacement. While filling in for Cox, Fotti took on more and more duties, and eventually she took her current position in 2007. Since then, she has worked to balance the ever-increasing tasks with her desire to spend time with the teams she supports.
“Cindy is an amazing person,” Bob Burchard, the director of athletics at Columbia College, said. “Her work ethic, ability to multi-task, communicate, and mentor our student-athletes is invaluable as a leader in our department.”
Fotti knows that her administrative duties come first, but she also acknowledges that she’s grown closer to many players within the confines of her office.
“Working with compliance is a rewarding part of my job because I get to cheer for the athletes in school,” Fotti said. “I get to see them succeed academically, graduate eventually, I get to keep them on track. That’s a huge thing to me.”
Wendy Spratt, the softball coach at Columbia College, said Fotti works to ensure that the players dedicate sufficient time to their off-the-field duties.
"Cindy is an incredible mentor for our student athletes since she has already persevered through the daily challenges they face," Spratt said.
Since she began her job, Fotti has only missed one home game. It was a men's basketball game she missed when she was traveling with the volleyball team.
“In my position I get to know the athletes so much better,” Fotti said. “It’s easier for me to cheer on somebody I know… I know all of the athletes and that really makes me want to watch them, pull for them. I want to support them, and it’s fun.”
In a way, Fotti has become a sort of Columbia College groupie. She said that though Burchard told her that she should travel with each team at least once per season, she actually boards the team buses as much as she possibly can.
“I would go to every away game if I could,” Fotti said. “I love to travel with the teams. I think you really get to know them when you’re traveling with them; it brings you so much closer.”
Burchard also said Fotti’s shared experiences with the athletes makes it easier for them to relate to her and is a definite benefit to the program.
The only downside to her intense loyalty is that it can sometimes conflict with her official duties, especially in close games.
“It’s really hard being up in the press box, because we have the rule that you can’t cheer,” Fotti said. “You’ve got to be impartial, and that’s really hard. You’ll often find me, especially at basketball games that are really close, step out of the press box. I know I’m going to yell, and I’m going to do something that I can’t be in the press box. It’s hard because I’m definitely trying to set the example for everyone to not cheer, but there I am.”
Last year, Fotti was recognized with the College Sports Information Directors of America Rising Star award, and her passion for the school and its teams has only enhanced her drive to do more within the athletic department.
“To be an athletic administrator you have to be a number one fan,” Burchard said. “Long hours, cold outdoor events, late nights in the gym, conflict resolution are all part of the job. If you don’t love it, you can’t do it.”