Next time you’re at a Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) sporting event, be on the lookout for a bright orange and blue suit. The person wearing that suit, passionately cheering the Sagehens onto victory, would be Miriam Merrill, director of athletics and chair of physical education for P-P.
“She’s always wearing that signature orange and blue combination to represent the Sagehens,” Bella Carreon PO ’25, a softball player for P-P, said.
Merrill is one of two female athletic directors at the 5Cs, working alongside Erica Perkins Jasper, the athletic director for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS). Perkins Jasper and Merrill make up less than 24 percent of athletic directors in the NCAA who identify as female.
Merrill began serving in her current role with P-P in July of 2020. In the two and a half years since then, what she says she is proud of is P-P student-athletes’ success both on and off the field.
“There are many things to be proud of when I think of what we have accomplished during my first two and a half years,” Merrill said via email. “Our student-athletes are succeeding in their athletic spaces which is noted by the national and conference championships we have won. But this is only part of it, because our teams are excelling in the classroom. We have had several teams recognized as having the highest GPA in the NCAA, across all divisions. I continue to be amazed by them daily.”
Merrill’s passion for collegiate-level athletics started as a track and field athlete at the University of Cincinnati, where she was the first All-America honoree in her school’s history, earning the title after finishing eighth in the NCAA Division I Indoor Championship meet in 2001. Her indoor weight throws continue to be some of the best performances her alma mater has seen. Her senior year, she was awarded the Helen Norman Smith Award, recognizing the top female senior student-athlete at the University of Cincinnati.
“My passion for sports started as a student-athlete [in college],” Merrill said. “I had a phenomenal experience and wanted to be in a position where I could do the same for the student athletes of the future.”
Merrill began her career in athletics by coaching track and field and serving as director of athletics at several smaller institutions in Chicago before transitioning to liberal arts institutions. She served as associate athletic director at Hamilton College before she landed the job with Pomona College and Pitzer College athletics.
When asked what makes P-P Athletics unique and what kind of culture she aims to foster in the athletic department. Merrill said that there are several core values that are key to P-P’s mission.
“P-P Athletics is grounded in our core values which sets the stage for the culture we strive to create,” she said. “One department core value is holistic development where we facilitate the discovery of mental, physical and social skills. We uplift community by actively building and sustaining a culture of respect for all individuals and learn through shared challenges and triumphs. We strive for excellence by meeting high standards which help each other grow and succeed.”
According to Merrill, part of this shared culture of excellence comes from the healthy cross-campus athletic partnership with CMS’s athletic director.
“I am grateful to have the opportunity to lead one of the best athletics departments within the best consortium and alongside one of the best female [athletic directors] in the business, Erica Perkins Jasper,” she said.
When asked about her and Perkins Jasper’s success in the typically male-dominated field of athletics, Merrill pointed out that DIII Athletics provides a great opportunity for women to occupy positions of authority — but there is still room for improvement.
“Division III offers the greatest opportunity for women in the athletics director (AD) position,” she said. “The percentage of women holding the AD position in DIII is 33 percent, which is higher than DI and DII; however, when you look at the racial breakdown, DIII’s numbers of women of color are lacking. The number of Black women ADs in DIII is only 3.6 percent, and I happen to represent one of the small 3.6 percent.”
Merrill said that she hopes her and Perkins Jasper’s presence in the athletic director roles at the 5cs can inspire future generations to continue diversifying athletics administration. She is already doing plenty to inspire women athletes at P-P.
“She’s super supportive,” Carreon said. “She even comes to away games sometimes, always supporting all of the P-P teams.”
Olivia Reichle PO ’25, a sprinter for Sagehens track and field, said she was pleasantly surprised at Merrill’s presence at one of her meets.
“I didn’t see her coming, but all of a sudden she’s hanging the medal around my neck and I thought, ‘how cool! How many student-athletes can say that their AD was at their meet?’”
Merrill said it’s just as important to celebrate her individual barrier-breaking success in athletics as it is to inspire future generations with her continuous interactions with P-P athletic teams.
“My hope for the future is that student athletes who look like me feel like they can see themselves in athletics administration,” Merrill said, “which is why we all need to continue to lift as we rise!”