Katherine Wenk Christoffers '45 Director of Athletics
Chair of the Physical Education Department
Joined Connecticut College: 1980
B.S., St. Lawrence University; M.S., Ithaca College
Fran Shields was named Connecticut College’s fourth director of athletics in July of 2003. Now in his 34th year in the Department of Athletics at Connecticut College, Shields came to the College in the fall of 1980, hired by Charles B. Luce as head coach of men’s lacrosse and head athletic trainer. He built a fourth-year varsity men’s lacrosse program into a nationally-ranked program, finishing in the USILA top 20 four times. He was named national (USILA) Coach of the Year in 1993 when the Camels went 10-3 and finished #15 in the nation. The Camels won the New England Division III ECAC championship in 1996.
Shields is now in his 11th year at the helm of the Camel athletics program. He has led the intercollegiate programs to improved competitive success in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), including a 50% improvement in winning percentage against conference opponents, and more than doubling the number of NESCAC post-season berths won. In the past six years, Camel teams have hosted three NCAA playoffs (men’s lacrosse and women’s volleyball), won three individual NCAA championships (cross country and track & field), and have finished in the Top 5 in the nation three times (sailing). Connecticut College student-athletes have earned All-American honors 52 times in this time frame.
Shields has led a $16 million transformation of the athletics facilities at Connecticut College. Working closely with recently-retired President Lee Higdon and a dedicated team of the college’s leaders and donors, Shields oversaw the construction of the Artificial Turf at Silfen Field, the Ann & Lee Higdon Fitness Center (increasing our fitness/wellness space from 2,900 sf. to 10,000), the renovation of the South Tennis Courts, renovations to locker rooms in the Luce Field House, lighting for the turf field and Silfen Track, renovations to the training room, including state-of-the art cryotherm baths, renovations to the Hall of Fame Room and to Dayton Arena, and improvements to the waterfront for sailing and rowing.
He oversees 28 intercollegiate varsity programs with over 500 student-athletes practicing and competing in several major facilities including a Sailing/Rowing waterfront training area, the Artificial Turf Field at Silfen Track, the Lott Natatorium, the Christoffers Rowing Tanks, the Dayton Ice Arena, the South Tennis Courts, the Luce Field House with five multipurpose courts for intercollegiate competition, intramurals, recreation, club sports, and physical education courses, a rock climbing wall, and squash courts, as well as five natural grass playing fields.
He supervises 18 adjunct faculty head coaches, 16 assistant coaches, and nine support staff, including four certified athletic trainers, sports information director, coordinator of the athletic department/business manager, coordinator of athletics operations, and two ice arena employees. In his tenure, Shields has reorganized the department’s human resources to improve working environment, assistant coaching support, and recruiting resources. He has arrayed his staff to provide a broad-based athletics program, extending far beyond just the intercollegiate varsity teams.
Under his leadership, the athletic facilities at Connecticut College are in constant use for student open recreation, club team, and physical education use as well as a fitness and wellness hub for the entire campus community. Shields has led efforts to include the local community, providing facilities and expertise for school children in various programs and as a center for youth tournaments in basketball, volleyball, swimming, soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse. He was an original organizer with the College’s Office of Volunteers of the Kids, Books, and Athletics program (KBA) combining physical and literacy education for local at-risk youth. He began the Camels For Whalers tutoring program in 2012 where Camel student-athletes tutor New London High School student-athletes after school.
Shields has made significant contributions to campus life. He was a member of the first Presidential Task Force on Athletics in 2002, a member of the President’s Commission on a Pluralistic Community in 2003, a member of the Connecticut College Strategic Planning Committee in 2004, and is currently a member of the College’s Diversity Council. He led the athletics department to be named the “Think S.A.F.E. Partner of the Year” in 2012 as the men’s ice hockey team began the “Green Dot Game” to raise awareness for sexual violence prevention. The Green Dot program, focusing on bystander intervention strategies, now has three Green Dot games on our campus and has also been adopted by Tufts University.
Shields has worked with Darcie Folsom, Connecticut College’s Director of Sexual Violence Education, to educate all student-athletes on campus in Green Dot training. He has also partnered with Professor Jen Manion, Director of Connecticut College’s LGBTQ Center, to fight homophobia in athletics and promote the “You Can Play” program. Shields recently appeared in the College’s “You Can Play” video production. In addition, he has led athletics in the co-sponsoring of several visiting lecturers for the Student Government Association on topics such as the 21-year old drinking age, overcoming physical adversity in spinal injuries, and lecturers for the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
Shields has been very active at all levels of sport. At the national level, he has served as Chair of the NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Committee (2011-12) and as a committee member in 2009 and 2010. He was part of the NCAA committee that planned and administered the combined NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. As Chair of the committee, Shields advocated for increased bench limits for the Division III men’s championship and was successful in a 16% increase, resulting in improved student-athlete experience. He has been giving back to the sport of men’s lacrosse for many years as a USILA Executive Board member and participation on many committees including All-America selection, Special Awards, and Coaches’ Poll.
At the conference level, he has been a member of the NESCAC AD Executive Committee since 2011, and chaired the conference in 2012-13. He has served on the NESCAC committee on the NCAA Sportsmanship and Woman of the Year selection since 2008.
He has been the administrative liaison to NESCAC men’s lacrosse, tennis, and men’s ice hockey coaching groups. He served on the NESCAC search committee for the conference’s recent hire of a Director of Media Relations.
At the regional level, Shields is a founder of the East Lyme (CT) Youth Lacrosse Association. Since the program’s inception in 1999, each year over 400 boys and girls participate in lacrosse from first grade through eighth grade. The program has successfully fed the highly successful East Lyme High School boys and girls programs that perennially finish among the top 8 teams in the state and dominate the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
Shields earned a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from St. Lawrence University in 1979 and a Master of Science in Physical Education from Ithaca College in 1985. He was captain and second team All-American at attack on St. Lawrence’s 1979 NCAA Division II-III semifinalists. He graduated with the school’s all-time record for points scored. He has been inducted into the St. Lawrence University Athletics Hall of Fame twice, first as an individual in 1994 (on the same night as his father, Frank, a 1954 St. Lawrence grad and football standout), and with his 1979 teammates at their team induction in 2008. He is also a member of the Geneva (NY) Athletics Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997.