During a 43-year career in the Stonehill College athletics department, she was never fond of being the center of attention.
First as the founder of the women’s basketball program and then as the director of athletics, Paula Sullivan avoided the spotlight, preferring to focus on teamwork.
There was no escaping that spotlight on Saturday afternoon, though, not when Sullivan was honored by the school in a special way.
With a number of her former players looking on, the court at Merkert Gymnasium was named the Paula Sullivan Court during a half-hour ceremony prior to the Stonehill Tip-Off Classic.
Sullivan, who retired last summer, now has her name and signature located on the court opposite the visitor’s bench.
“For someone who shines so brightly, she never wanted the spotlight on her,’’ said Kelly Hart, a longtime assistant coach on Sullivan’s staff who later succeeded her. “It’s a wonderful tribute to a phenomenal person.
“Her accomplishments are right here in the stands, all the people who she helped so much during their time at Stonehill.’’
Sullivan won 479 games during a 25-year coaching career that began in 1971 before Merkert Gym was even opened and ended in 1996. She then became the director of athletics, helping take the program to new heights.
Players from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were in the stands for the ceremony and got together later in the day for a reunion during a reception in Sullivan’s honor.
“I was a little taken back when they told me about this,’’ said Sullivan. “I’m not a big fan as a team coach of accolades and individual awards. I’m more of a team person.
“I just kept thinking of all the wonderful coaches who have coached on that floor now and will after. I thought of all the athletes. There are so many names that could have been on that floor, but I did accept this in their honor.
“As deeply touched as I am by this honor, I did not score one point and certainly didn’t do anything alone. Today is about the athletes and all the men and women who have made Stonehill athletics what it is.’’
Father John Denning, C.S.C., the Stonehill president, noted that Sullivan’s “lessons extended far beyond the basketball court. … She taught them how to win with a sense of sportsmanship and how to lose with dignity.’’
Laurie Dunn, a 1985 Stonehill graduate who was on Sullivan’s first NCAA tournament team, said, “It’s not the championships she was most proud of. It was and it is the players.’’
Sullivan never had a losing season in 25 years on the bench and brought Stonehill to the Elite Eight on two occasions. She was a competitor, and that rubbed off on her players.
“I dislike losing as much as Lima beans and being cold,’’ Sullivan once wrote in a letter to her players, according to Dunn.
For Sullivan, the tribute was touching, and she spoke of her parents, who used to sit behind the Stonehill bench when she was coaching.
“I can only imagine the conversation in heaven today with my mother saying, ‘Arthur, can you believe our daughter’s name is on the court at Stonehill?’’’ said Sullivan in her speech. “My dad replied, ‘You didn’t think they’d name the library after her?’’’
No, they named the court at Merkert Gym, the place Father Denning called “her classroom’’ after Paula Sullivan, who accomplished so much in a quarter-century of coaching plus nearly 20 more years in athletics administration.
“It was a labor of love,’’ she said. “I loved being here. I am deeply humbled by this honor. This gym was my home for 25 years, and I had some of the greatest moments of my career in this building.’’