MISENHEIMER, N.C. — Pfeiffer University athletic director Mary Ann Sunbury has been a constant presence on the Pfeiffer campus since 1985 and has coached all but two women’s sports for the Falcons in those 27 seasons. Sunbury, who has seen a great deal of change over the years in women’s athletics both at the high school and college levels, will step down as athletic director and retire after 35 years in athletics, both on the sidelines and in the administrative offices.
“I will miss the interaction with my colleagues and the students; I have great coworkers,” Sunbury said.
Before Girls’ Sports Were Played
Her years in athletics started at Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, S.C., which at the time was the biggest high school in the Palmetto State.
Girls’ high school sports had not existed in South Carolina until 1971 and Wade-Hampton had no teams until the insistence of Sunbury.
"My friend and I sat in the principal’s office and asked him to start a basketball team,” Sunbury said.
The argument made to her, she said, was that girls’ could not have a high school team because the gym was already full with the varsity, JV, ninth grade, B and C boys’ teams.
However, with the influence from the advent of Title IX, women’s athletics were born across the country, including a tennis team for Sunbury and her friend at Wade-Hampton her junior and senior year.
Sunbury said that she “always knew” she wanted to coach, which she did after high school.
Becoming A Coach
After graduating from Erskine College in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Sun-bury coached at Pendleton High School in South Carolina for three seasons. She coached basketball and started a volleyball squad as well, including earning state championships in both sports in the 1978-79 academic year.
Sunbury earned a master’s degree from the University of Georgia and advanced into the college coaching ranks to Brevard College, then a two-year junior college. The University of Georgia was also where she met her future husband, Bill, who recently also retired from Erwin Middle School in Rowan County Schools after 30 years as a P.E. teacher.
In her five years at Brevard College from 1980-85, Sunbury coached the basketball team to a conference championship and sent a tennis squad to nationals.
After her time at Brevard, Sunbury said that she was ready to get into a four-year school as a coach.
That school was Pfeiffer College, where she was hired in the summer of 1985 to coach basketball, tennis and be an assistant P.E. professor, as well as supervision of student teachers.
Sunbury went on to send tennis teams to nationals in 1994 and 1995 as well as claim seven conference championships and having “strong teams” in all those years. She coached tennis at Peiffer until the 2007 season.
Included in her five seasons as the head women’s basketball coach was a huge win at UNC-Pembroke when the Braves were ranked 25th in the nation at the time.
Sunbury also coached the women’s volleyball team for five years, which included a conference championship and appearance in the regionals.
In 1997, she was named as assistant athletic director and worked with compliance, later becoming an associate athletic director.
Sunbury was named the athletic director in 2011 and served as such for two seasons.
As the Pfeiffer athletic program searches nationwide for their next athletic director, Pfeiffer professor Jack Ingram will serve as interim AD.
The process for retiring has been interesting, Sunbury said, adding that “it was just time to do it.”
Sunbury said that she and her husband love to travel and plan to do so “while the knees and the body still works.”
She said that she looks forward to not having to get up early every day, but that she will miss being around college students.
The presence of students in her life, Sunbury said, “kept me on my toes and kept me young.”