It’s hard to think of a NIRSA Championship Series event without thinking of Sarah Fain. Her great smile and bright personality were sure to cheer up staff and participants alike on early tournament mornings at basketball or wet and cold afternoons at flag football. But even more than her amazing spirit, Sarah may be remembered most by her many colleagues and friends for her generosity and endless efforts to better those around her.
Sarah died on Monday, April 3, in Statesboro, Georgia at age 42 after a bold and graceful battle with colon cancer.
A leader in collegiate recreation
Born in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Sarah began her collegiate career at the University of North Carolina where she not only earned her bachelor’s degree in 1996 but also solidified her love of all things Tar Heel Blue. Her next stop was Statesboro, Georgia, where she served for two years as a graduate assistant within the Campus Recreation and Intramurals (CRI) Department while earning her master’s degree in recreation administration.
After a brief stint at Georgia College in Milledgeville, she ventured out to Huntsville, Texas in 1999 to become the Assistant Director for Intramurals at Sam Houston State University. However, Georgia Southern was quick to recruit her back to Statesboro—she returned in 2002. And, like a big bear hug, Georgia Southern held on tightly to Sarah ever since.
As Director of Intramural Sports, Sarah led comprehensive programs complete with an impressive array of features including all-star nights and participant statistics not common at many schools. The extras provided unique learning opportunities for student staff as well as enhancements to the participant experience.
A mentor for many
“Sarah was always looking for ways to get us [student staff] involved,” says Haley Cox, an undergraduate intramural sports staff member at Georgia Southern and now a campus recreation professional at Clemson University. “And, as a woman leading in our field, she helped me see opportunities to continue to work in campus recreation.”
“Sarah taught me so much in the time I was her student,” says Matt Jarman, a former graduate assistant at Georgia Southern and now Intramural and Club Sports Coordinator at Emory University. “She taught me how to be detailed, diligent, determined, and accountable. How to work hard and make an impact.”
Outside of Statesboro, Sarah quickly became a regular at extramural tournaments throughout the Southeast. And, it’s no wonder why tournament hosts were quick to call on her to be part of their staffs.
A champion for intramural a club sport experiences
Sarah had a gift for infusing calmness into the chaos of a tournament weekend. It was more than just her mastery of organization—although to Sarah there was no spreadsheet too complex, no detail overlooked—even greater was the compassion she showed for fellow tournament staff, from those working their first event to others working their fifteenth.
“Sarah always made sure that you knew you were special to her,” recalls Anna Castillo, Associate Director of Intramural and Recreational Activities at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Anna first met Sarah at a NIRSA Championship Series event and the two quickly became friends.
In the last decade alone, Sarah served as a Tournament Director, Director of Competition, or Director of the All-Tournament Committee for over a dozen NIRSA National Championship tournaments in basketball and flag football. Add to that a seemingly countless number of volunteer positions at regional and state extramural events. A 23-year member of NIRSA, she served as a committee member on both the Intramural and Extramural Committees going back to the early 2000s. In 2014, she was awarded the NIRSA Annual Service Award—which celebrates the efforts of individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their volunteer service—for her contributions to the NIRSA National Flag Football Championships.
“Sarah’s love for our profession and its purpose resonated not only through her daily responsibilities in providing programs for Georgia Southern students, but in being a servant leader for the many, many extramural programs across the country,” says Gene Sherry, Executive Director of Campus Recreation & Intramurals at Georgia Southern University and a longtime colleague. “Sarah consistently delivered a standard higher than expectations, and—along with her work ethic and kindness—she defined excellence.”
A NIRSA Championship Series legend
This past year, Sarah was serving as the Second Vice-Chair for the NIRSA Championship Series. She worked her ninth consecutive national flag football championship tournament in early January.
“The cold weather at flag football this year made for a challenging couple of days,” recalls Valerie McCutchan, Director of National Sport Programs for NIRSA, “But there was Sarah, all bundled up out on the fields leading and mentoring others.”
“Sarah’s contributions to collegiate recreation and the NIRSA Championship Series are numerous,” adds Brooke Turner, current Chair for the Series and Assistant Director for Competitive Sports at the University of Alabama. “But it is the kindness, mentorship, and friendship that she showed countless students and colleagues that endeared her to our hearts forever.”
Sarah never missed an opportunity to provide someone with an encouraging word, a pat on the back, or a hug of support.
“The love that Sarah showed not just to staff but also to participants is a model for many working in our field,” says Jerrod Jackson, a former graduate assistant at Georgia Southern and current Director of Intramural Sports at Texas A&M University. “She put everyone else before herself. As a mentor, she was my biggest cheerleader. She would throw her support behind me and encourage me all along the way.”
While Sarah had just a handful of schools on her résumé, she looked like a world traveler at NIRSA conferences with stickers and pins from schools across our Association. Her influence was far and wide.
NIRSA blue through and through
“She was a true ambassador for NIRSA,” says Anna. “As someone from a smaller school, Sarah helped open many doors for me to meet great people and experience what NIRSA truly is.”
Sarah’s impact on the NIRSA family was immense. Most recently, it has been seen through the love and support displayed by members at NIRSA events and as part of #TeamFain, an alliance of friends and colleagues providing additional encouragement. From group photos at tournaments to videos at the NIRSA 2017 Annual Conference, many gathered to return a small amount of support for a dear colleague who had supported them in so many ways over the past two decades.
On campus, at tournaments, and throughout the NIRSA community, Sarah Fain was an amazing leader, colleague, mentor, and friend. But most of all, she is and will always be, an inspiration.
The Fain family will hold a memorial service at 2:00pm on Thursday, April 6 at the Upper Long Cane Cemetery in Abbeville, South Carolina. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be made to the Sarah Fain Extramural Service Scholarship at Sea Island Bank, PO Box 568, Statesboro, GA 30459. Colleagues are also exploring a Heritage Scholarship with the NIRSA Foundation.
Georgia Southern Campus Recreation and Intramurals will host a Celebration of Life service at its Recreation Activity Center (RAC) at 5:30pm on Sarah’s birthday, Monday, May 1. For more information on this May 1 Celebration of Life, join the #TeamFain Facebook group, or email America Minc.