Written by Amanda Mathis
Coming to Converse for Jenn Bell was a homecoming after years of experience in collegiate athletics. A Spartanburg native and Dorman High School graduate, Bell started her career at a neighboring Spartanburg institution, Wofford College. During her time as coach, she was a part of the athletic staff that transitioned from Division II to Division I in the mid-1990s. A standout volleyball student-athlete for the Terriers, Bell parlayed that into the start of her career as a coach at nearby Anderson College. From coaching came a transition to administration. Now a college athletics veteran, Bell is becoming nationally recognized for her leadership here at Converse.
“I’m a lifetime learner, just like a sponge. Everywhere I go, I try to learn as much as possible,” says Bell. During her 18 years at Anderson College (now University), Bell learned the inner workings of college athletics from serving as a volleyball coach, the complexity of NCAA compliance, and becoming the Trojans’ Senior Woman Administrator, to name a few. She then moved to Hartsville, South Carolina, to work as the Associate Director of Athletics for Internal Operations at another private institution, Coker University.
“The impact that Coker made on me was monumental,” says Bell. “Working at the university level helped me at Converse as it gave me a different perspective from Anderson and Wofford.” During her time with the Cobras, Bell oversaw compliance for the Cobras’ 22 NCAA sports and served as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) liaison and game administrator for home events.
Strength In Connections
When you meet Bell, you realize she is a people person focused on relationships. Networking is critical; she tries to connect with everyone, from the students to the staff, at each college and university she has served. Recognizing that she could always learn from others, as a young professional, Bell reached out to the athletics staff at UNC Charlotte and asked to spend a day on campus to learn more about their program and what it takes to be successful as an athletic director, fundraiser, and other key roles within the department. There, she met Judy Rose, who has now retired; Rose was an award-winning Athletic Director and leader for the 49ers from 1990 through 2018.
Bell’s one meeting with Rose led to a life-changing moment during her time in the NCAA Pathway Program. While on a bus with colleagues, Rose, who had become her mentor by this point, called to inform Bell that the Converse University athletic director position was available and encouraged her to apply. The rest is history.
Building the Valkyrie Way
When Bell was named Converse University’s newest athletic director, she had long proven her worth with her administrative and coaching work. Upon her arrival in 2018, Converse was a single-gender campus and experienced the transition from an all-female to a co-ed program. Under Bell’s leadership, she added six male sports (Basketball, Cross Country, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, Track & Field), Esports, and a Spirit Squad to the growing list of Converse athletics, which now offers 21 programs.
“Under Bell’s leadership, she added six male sports, Esports, and a Spirit Squad to the growing list of Converse athletics, which now offers 21 programs.”
Just in the past year, she was nominated for the NCAA Division II 50th Anniversary Gold Winner (September), named Division II Nike Executive of the Year by Women Leaders in Sports (August), and appointed as third Vice President of the D2 Athletic Directors Association (D2 ADA) (July). In March, she received recognition as the NACDA Cushman & Wakefield Athletic Director of the Year for NCAA Division II.
During the 2021-2022 academic year, her career came full circle as Bell became a mentor in the NCAA and D2 ADA Women and Minorities Mentoring Program. Established in 2011, the program pairs mentees with a leader who is a sitting Division II athletics director. Bell was a mentee herself in 2014-15. Most recently, Bell was named the Conference Carolinas AD Vice Chair, serving until the 2024 spring meeting. After the meeting, she will serve as the Conference Carolinas AD Chair for the next two years.
Her administration has set the standard for all student-athletes by creating the following core values: excellence, respect, integrity, strength, vision, accountability, leadership, and service. Commitment to academic excellence is one of her top priorities.
The Future of the Valkyrie Way
Looking out from her office to view athletic fields, Bell considers her own past as she looks forward to the future of Valkyrie athletics.
Sports were a part of the fabric of her youth as her father was a Spartanburg Methodist College baseball player, and her mother played basketball in high school. Bell and her husband, Lee, have two children, Madison and Eli, and now her son is enjoying youth sports. There is a balance between Mom and AD, especially at her son’s sporting events. “I’ve enjoyed just being a parent at the games,” says Bell.
“Our athletic programs focus on our students – on and off the field – so that they reach their full potential here at Converse and in life.”Jenn Bell
Looking ahead, Bell is passionate about providing all Converse student-athletes a balanced experience that strives for excellence in the classroom, during competition, and within the Spartanburg community.
“There is much for us to accomplish now and in the future,” Bell said. “Our athletic programs focus on our students – on and off the field – so that they reach their full potential here at Converse and in life after graduation and once they graduate from Converse.”
With Bell leading the way, there is much for all of us to enjoy and look forward to about the bright future of Converse Athletics.