New diocesan athletic director aims to help more students discover the power of sports
FORT WORTH — Shannon Irwin is uniquely equipped for her role as athletic director for schools in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Combining her passion for sports and her love of administration with her faith made the job feel like a perfect fit, Irwin said in an interview just a few days into the new school year.
“It’s of lifelong importance for us to realize we’re created by God,” Irwin said. “Our bodies are our temples, and by being healthy and staying healthy we show reverence for God.”
After serving in a part-time interim role as diocesan athletic director since last fall — along with her duties as A.D. and physical education teacher at St. Andrew Catholic School — Irwin was happy to step into the full-time role this summer.
Brinton Smith, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth, said, “She did such a good job that when I first arrived, and we needed a full-time A.D., everyone said to talk to Shannon first.”
Once Smith met her and heard her vision for sports and saw her dedication to the part-time role, he knew “she was my choice.”
Irwin has already made an impact on the program. She led the effort to add a flag football program for kindergarten through sixth-grade students this year, as well as extending a pilot middle school swim program throughout the diocese.
Irwin said her top priority is to create a Catholic identity in diocesan athletics.
“We should be Catholics first, then students, then athletes, and our athletes should be role models,” she said.
Her goal is to “create more opportunities for students” and help prepare them for the rigors of high school sports through practicing skills. Irwin said she hopes to offer more clinics and camps for younger students, rather than adding a lot of new leagues.
One new opportunity the diocese just added was inviting eighth graders to join the sailing club at Nolan Catholic High School, giving them the chance to try a unique sport and learn a new skill.
Sports matter in education, Irwin said, because students develop new skills, discipline, and learn teamwork.
“It helps develop them and gives them opportunities to learn a lot of life lessons,” she said.
She also encourages coaches to remember that they are ministers. They can be that formative person in a child’s life.
“Coaches can start practice with prayer, make connections with moral law, and be the best version of themselves because they are role models,” Irwin said.
The ministry of coaching
Irwin grew up in a military family where discipline was the standard. Born in Hawaii, she spent most of her childhood at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert.
Her first exposure to sports was running cross country and track in elementary school. She added basketball in middle school and volleyball in high school. Two of the biggest positive influences in her school years were coaches: her elementary cross country coach and high school basketball coach. Another high school coach left a bad impression.
“It’s important for coaches to remember that you can help make a child or break a child,” Irwin said.
She moved to Texas for college. After graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington, she took a job as a P.E. teacher in Everman ISD, where she spent eight years. For the last nine years, she taught at St. Andrew School, and, in the last few years, took on the job of the school’s athletic director.
“I was a cradle Catholic, but I didn’t really find my faith until I started working in Catholic education,” Irwin said. “I didn’t have a deep connection with my faith, but I discovered that faith is very important, and we need to use it in the forefront of everything we do.”
She is married to Mike Irwin, who served as athletic director at St. Andrew before she took on the role. It is the second marriage for both of them, and together they have four children. Irwin’s daughter graduated from Nolan in 2017 and then attended Oklahoma State University, and her son is a sophomore at Nolan. The family belongs to St. Andrew Parish.
Irwin said she is excited to introduce more children in diocesan schools to sports and all the life skills they bring.
“Sports are a great avenue for kids to learn about themselves,” she said.