Imagine taking the helm of a ship in the middle of a hurricane while fires rage on the deck.

That might be akin to the challenge that Colleen Maguire will face in trying to steer New Jersey high school sports safely into port, perhaps as soon as September.

“Daunting,” Maguire said of the task of taking the leadership position of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association during the twin storms of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the social unrest in the country stemming from the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Maguire, who has been the NJSIAA’s director of finance and administration since 2014, on Wednesday was named the organization’s chief operating officer.

Colleen Maguire is the new chief operating officer of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
NJSIAA
Colleen Maguire is the new chief operating officer of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

The first woman to lead the 102-year-old organization that oversees high school sports in New Jersey, Maguire replaces executive director Larry White, who will step down from day-to-day responsibilities on June 30.

White, a Penns Grove High School graduate and West Deptford resident, was the first African American executive director in NJSIAA history. He will remain with the organization in an advisory committee until the end of 2020.

“When you experience unusual circumstances, of the type we’ve all lived through during the past several months, your perspective can change,” said White, who joined the NJSIAA as an associate director in 2005 and became executive director in 2018. “I’ve loved working with my colleagues and all our student-athletes, athletic directors, and coaches. But I’m ready now to spend more time with my family and take everything a bit more slowly.”

Maguire, a Moorestown resident, is a former George Washington University basketball star. She graduated summa cum laude from the school with a degree in accounting and earned her Certified Public Accountant license in 1998.

Not only is she the first woman to head the organization, she also brings a different perspective with a business background. Almost all current and previous NJSIAA officials were school athletic administrators.

Larry White (right), a Penns Grove High School graduate shown here during a wrestling match that included former Buena High School athlete Andrew Johnson (left) in January of 2019, has decided to step down as the NJSIAA's executive director.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Larry White (right), a Penns Grove High School graduate shown here during a wrestling match that included former Buena High School athlete Andrew Johnson (left) in January of 2019, has decided to step down as the NJSIAA's executive director.

Before joining the NJSIAA, Maguire worked at Commerce Bank/TD Bank, based in Cherry Hill. She began her career with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Washington, D.C.

The change is reflected in Maguire’s title. She is the organization’s first chief operating officer, a familiar position in the business world.

“Leadership is leadership,” Maguire said on a Zoom call. “It’s really about putting the best people in the best positions.”

Maguire, who is a member of George Washington’s athletic Hall of Fame, knows she is taking over the organization at a tumultuous time.

“Times are tough,” she said. “But it’s going to take a village to get us through. It’s tough anytime there is change. People cling to the past in a nostalgic way and they are nervous by what could happen in the future.”

The NJSIAA canceled the winter season March 13, with the basketball tournaments at the state semifinal stage. The spring season was canceled as well after Gov. Phil Murphy closed schools for the remainder of the school year in May.

The organization is facing uncertainty about the likelihood of sports in the fall as well as the protocols that might be put in place given the health risks presented by the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“It’s June, we have time,” Maguire said. “But we know those three months will fly by. We’re going to stay in steady contact with the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the governor’s office.

“Obviously, we can’t go much further [with implementing a return to sports] until we know the status of the school year.”

Maguire was a basketball star at South Hunterdon High, scoring 2,162 career points and leading the team to the Group 1 state title in 1992. Maguire and her husband are the parents of three daughters, one of whom is about to enter high school.

“I know the toll the pandemic has taken on student athletes,” Maguire said. “We want nothing more than to get them back on the field. They need it physically, emotionally, and for their mental health.

“We’re not going to rest until we figure out a way to get them back out there.”