Why Danelle Fabianich is a Rock Star

Danelle Fabianich is one of my favorite people in the athletics department at UTM. She is the Assistant Athletics Director for Academics and Student-Athlete Services, the Senior Woman Administrator and basically just a rock star. She has come to be the mom of athletics. Everyone's first thought when they have a problem in their athletic experience is to go to Danelle and ask her for help. She has “saved my life” more times than I could count, and I will never ever be able to repay her for everything she has done for me and the athletics department. She said that a typical day at work for her is usually never the same. “I’m kind of a ‘fixer’ so most days are spent helping others with issues, problems and questions.  I work with student-athletes who are having issues with academics; I have various responsibilities on game days (all sports); I monitor student-athlete welfare and basically make sure our kids are ok and doing well. I don’t think any two days have ever been the same.”

I first came to know Danelle when I was elected to be a Student Athlete Advisory Council representative by my teammates as a freshman. I had no idea what I was getting into except that there would be free food and t-shirts. The Student Athlete Advisory Council is a group of athletes from each team. There are always 2 members from each team, and we serve as a voice for our teams to the athletics department. Danelle is the advisor for this student organization, but she does so much more. Eventually, Danelle saw the potential in me to be able to run this council and appointed me to be Vice President my junior year and then President my senior year.

Danelle graduated with her BS in Secondary Business Education from the University of Northern Colorado and her MBA from UT Martin. When I asked her how she ended up at UTM she said, “I was married at the time to a football coach and ended up in Martin (kicking and screaming!). We ended up divorcing after moving to Louisiana, so I came back to Martin to raise my 3-year-old and new born.  Prior to Martin, I worked at UT Knoxville for two years and going on 24 here at UTM.” I am so glad that she ended up here because she has become a huge part of my college experience.

Working with students is, in my opinion, my favorite things she does on campus. She has changed so many of our lives and makes everything okay when we are all so far away from home. I told her that she is definitely the favorite person in the athletics department by all of the athletes. “I’m not sure about that, but I hope it is true! My heart swells with love for my Skyhawks.  Every single athlete deserves to have someone in the stands who loves them, is proud of them and is not all that concerned about the wins and losses. I like being that person for so many people. I’m a hugger, and I think everyone needs hugs, so that has kind of become my ‘ministry’—a hug ministry. Everyone needs to feel cared about, and their mamas aren’t here, so I feel I need to do that for them while they are away from home. I tell parents who bring their babies to us that if you let us borrow them, I promise we will take really good care of them! I aim to do that every day!”

Some of Danelle’s hobbies are making homemade cards and watching her Skyhawks! Her favorite thing about UTM is “the sense of family that this school offers. People here will say ‘have a nice day’ and really mean it. I came back to UT Martin broken and alone but was scooped up, taken care of and, most importantly, made to feel like I made a difference. Martin will grow on you…” She said that UTM has changed her life, and she has definitely changed UTM. “I have had the honor to become part of many students’ lives. This sustains me and makes me come back every single day. I am allowed to hang out with 18-22 year-old kids and watch them turn into amazing young adults. And then they leave and humor me by keeping in touch. This has made me a better person. I just want to be someone who has made a difference.”

Working with student athletes has changed her entire life plan. “I never imagined myself doing what I do. I was going to be a high school teacher and a coach’s wife. Athletics has always been a part of my life. I was an athlete, my Daddy was a coach, and I married a coach, yet still, I never imagined being a part of an athletic department. My life circumstances thrust me into this life, and I have never regretted a single moment of it. These kids have forever changed the way I see the world. I just wish everyone had the chance to know our student-athletes like I do. There is such a preconceived idea of what an athlete is, and it is wrong. They are just like everyone else, trying to find their place in the world. They are insecure, sensitive and scared just like everyone else. They just have the insolation of a team that helps hold them up while they find themselves. Not everyone understands this.” Having Danelle to understand this about all of us makes life a whole lot easier for us. When professors are giving us a hard time about something, we can just go tell Danelle, and she goes and fixes it just like our own mother would do.

Danelle has changed and touched the lives of so many students, and when I asked her about how it makes her feel, she said, “Proud! I was raised by two very wonderful educators. My parents taught school for over 30 years, and I watched them love on kids and make a difference. Don’t think I could do it any other way. These student athletes are so gracious by letting me be a part of their lives, and I am so appreciative for the opportunity. I have a photo in my office with this saying on it which reminds me everyday what’s important: ‘The journey has always been about laughing together, loving each other, seeking adventure, believing in our dreams and making a difference…but sometimes we forget.’  I just thank each and every one of my student-athletes throughout the years who have allowed me to be part of their journey.”

We love Danelle and everything that she does for everyone around campus. If you ever find yourself in the Elam Center, make your way into the Athletics office and find the last door on the right covered in love!

Photo courtesy of Danelle Fabianich