Former Trojan Softball Player Takes the Helm as SSC Athletic Director
At a glance, Leslie Sewell's journey from softball player to Athletic Director at Seminole State College might seem like a series of coincidences, a simple trajectory of luck—both good and bad.
But that couldn't be further from the truth.
Sewell's passion for softball and dedication to self-improvement led her to strong performances as a catcher and third base player at Shawnee High School. Although neither of her parents were athletes themselves, they embraced Sewell's love for the sport. Her mother, in particular, played a pivotal role, driving her all over the country for tournaments when travel ball was just beginning to gain popularity in the late-1990s. Her talent caught the attention of SSC's softball Head Coach at the time, Mark Dicus, and, after graduating from Shawnee High School in 2000, she became a Trojan.
Sewell jokingly refers to Dicus as the "Bobby Knight of softball," drawing a parallel to the legendary Indiana University and Texas Tech basketball coach known for his intensity.
"He pushed us every day to be our best. Although his coaching style was stern, I think it gave me the ability to put in the work to grow personally and professionally," Sewell said.
She continued catching and playing third base for the College. The team advanced to the national tournament, both her freshman and sophomore years. During that time, she sustained a shoulder injury, which relegated her to the role of designated hitter.
"I knew that I wasn't good enough at that point to go on to a four-year with my injury," Sewell said. "But I still needed to be a part of it. I felt coaching was the best avenue."
After her playing time at SSC concluded, she went straight on to the role of Assistant Coach. She stayed in the position for two years while completing her bachelor's degree at East Central University in social work.
Throughout the summers, she would work for SSC's Upward Bound program as a Resident Assistant. The program provides students from first-generation, low-income and underprivileged backgrounds with educational opportunities to help them graduate from high school and excel in college. It was during her first summer working there that she met her husband of 17 years, Waylon, who was the Activities Advisor for the Upward Bound at the time.
She received a grant at ECU that required her to work for the state following the completion of her degree. She knew she'd have to leave behind a sport that had been an integral part of her life. Once she graduated, she worked for the Department of Human Services in Oklahoma County as an Intake Specialist.
For five years, Leslie worked tirelessly in the child welfare system, navigating the complexities of the job with empathy and understanding. In 2008, her daughter Blakely was born. Parenthood brought about a profound shift in perspective, and she began to reassess her career path.
"For two and a half years, I worked at DHS as a non-parent. Then for two and a half years as a parent," Sewell said. The emotional toll of the work weighed on her, and she began to consider other job opportunities.
In 2010, she discovered an opening at SSC for an Upward Bound Coordinator. She started just as the grant program was hosting its summer camp.
"I felt like I was in Twilight Zone." Sewell laughed. "My 14-year-old daughter—she was 18 months at the time—I'm having to spend time away from her and my husband because we relocated to Oklahoma City, and I'm moving back to the college to live in the dorms again. I was like, 'Oh, wow, this again.'"
But it was also a moment of growth and opportunity for Leslie and her husband. The career change allowed them to embrace a new chapter in their lives and move away from big city life to create a home in Shawnee, drawing them closer to their roots, their families and the communities they cherished.
In 2014, the Sewells had their second daughter, Briar. Sewell continued to work for the grant program until she was offered the role of Athletic Services Coordinator in 2016 at the College.
Her background in coaching and social services provided her with a unique perspective in handling various responsibilities, including navigating sensitive issues like Title IX compliance and helping to ensure the smooth operation of the athletic department.
SSC President Lana Reynolds said her impact on the college didn't go unnoticed.
"Leslie's relentless work ethic, empathy and commitment to the success of our student athletes in the classroom and on the field is remarkable," Reynolds said.
Sewell was named Assistant Athletic Director in 2019. In the spring of 2023, Athletic Director Mike St. John announced his plans to retire at the end of June.
"My husband and friends would ask if I wanted to apply for the job, and I was unsure at first. Mike has worked in college athletics for decades. They're big shoes to fill," Sewell said.
Despite her hesitance, one thought kept resurfacing.
"My final decision was based on my girls. They'll be able to see that I did this. That I did this at a time where it's rare for a woman to hold this title—it shouldn't be rare, but it is."
In fact, when Sewell began as Athletic Director on July 1, she was the only female athletic director in all the two-year colleges in Oklahoma. Of the 25 teams in the NJCAA's Region II, which includes two-year colleges in both Arkansas and Oklahoma, Sewell is one of two female athletic directors.
Her tenure as Athletic Director begins on the heels of a banner year for SSC Athletics. Four teams competed in NJCAA national tournaments—women's soccer, men's basketball, men's golf and softball.
"The more successful your teams are, the more pressure you have. Our goal is to maintain the success of those teams and to help teams that may have struggled in recent years push towards success," Sewell said.
Her vision for the athletic department goes beyond wins and losses. She is focused on instilling a sense of community involvement and academic excellence in student-athletes.
"This expectation of being role models and active participants in the community is deeply ingrained in the college's culture," she said.
Sewell believes that their actions should reflect not just their talent on the field but also their character off it.
With less than a month until fall sports begin, Sewell has hit the ground running. As she reviews Letters of Intent from student-athletes looking to play at SSC, she can't help but think of her own path—from to athlete to coach, from social worker to grant coordinator, ultimately arriving at Athletic Director.
The experiences she had along the way once seemed disconnected, but each twist and turn brought her back to SSC.
"This is where I belong," Sewell said.
Caption: Leslie Sewell began her new role as Seminole State College's Athletic Director in July. She is currently the only woman to serve in that role across all two-year colleges in Oklahoma.
Photo: Trojan Softball
Caption: Sewell began her story at SSC as a catcher and third base player for the Trojans softball team from 2000 to 2002.
Photo: Leslie and Daughters
Caption: Sewell's daughters were the primary motivation for her to apply for the position of Athletic Director. Pictured: Leslie Sewell (left) and her daughters, Blakely (right) and Briar (center) cheer on the Trojans softball team during their appearance at the NJCAA National Softball Championship Tournament in Oxford, Alabama on May 23, 2003.
Photo: Leslie and Waylon
Caption: SSC is not only Sewell's alma mater or her longtime employer, but it is also where she met her husband of 17 years, Waylon. Pictured: One of their early adventures as a couple was on an SSC Global Studies trip to Hawaii in 2003.