By STACIE FANELLI
In 1891, basketball was invented at a YMCA. This August, Rhonda Anderson, who broke 19 scoring and rebounding records in her starring role on the Cornell University women’s team in the early 1980s, will return to her game’s roots when she takes over as president and CEO of the Middletown-based Community YMCA.
It took a while for Anderson to find her niche in basketball. In fact, if her high school basketball coach hadn’t recruited her to try out based on her height, her life might have turned out much differently. She credits the game for many of the traits she says will be vital in her new position.
“To rebound effectively, you have to work to get in the position, and you have to have the desire and the effort, ” Anderson said, “and it’s the same thing in the work environment.”
Though she has management positions at multiple Fortune 500 companies, including Johnson & Johnson, under her belt, Anderson said she finds the most enjoyment in the non-profit sector.
For the past nine years, she has served as the chief operating officer at Cathedral International, a Baptist mega church and social services agency in Perth Amboy, with over 5,000 members. A bigwig in the world of community service, she established a children’s financial literacy workshop there, worked with the women’s ministry and was secretary of the community development board, among other efforts.
Anderson succeeds Lisa Christian, who resigned under unexplained circumstances after just a year in the top job.
In her application to head the Y, the search committee was impressed that she treated volunteerism as a job, she said.
“My philosophy is trying to lead by example,” she said. “Don’t ask people do what you wouldn’t do yourself. I live by the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Anderson sees that philosophy rooted in the mission of the Y: building healthy lives and strong communities.
“It’s a natural fit because of the values… caring, honesty, respect, responsibility. Those are all things that were instilled in me at a young age,” she said. “All the things that I’m interested in, it’s here at the Y.”
That includes another very important value: basketball. For eight summers, she volunteered with a youth basketball clinic. The sport is still a major part of her life, and though she hasn’t played full-court since tearing her Achilles tendon 15 years ago, she expects to shoot around plenty at Red Bank’s facilities.
“We can have a free-throw shooting contest,” she suggested. “‘Beat the CEO.’ I would love that.”
When Anderson walked onto the basketball team in college just for kicks 30 years ago, she found it floundering. That’s why her proudest memory of playing isn’t a “me” moment like a game-winning shot at the buzzer. It’s the weekend her team beat Dartmouth and Harvard on the road, signifying that the program had undergone a complete 180.
“That’s just an example of my willingness to work hard at something that I’m passionate about,” she said. “I did as much as I could in the off-season to become better. The results were the many accolades that I received and just, probably the best time in my life in terms of something that I was heavily committed to.”
Anderson was also the first player in the history of Cornell women’s basketball to score more than 1,000 points in her career, which ended i 1983. She finished with 1,105 points.
An inductee into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame and the first woman ever to be named Athlete of the Year by the Cornell Sun, the campus newspaper, Anderson is humble about her distinguished sports career. Her focus on teamwork back then hasn’t changed.
“Certainly in the work environment, you really can’t accomplish much in isolation,” she said. “There are no lone rangers with success, unless maybe you are a long distance runner, but even then, you need a coach.”