The circle of life: One decision at age 6 shaped Haven Fields into more than an athlete

Haven Fields, deputy athletic director poses for a portrait wearing all of his press passes and holding a Ball State football helmet and a portrait of his two sons, April 19, 2021, in his office in the Health and Physical Activity building. Jacob Musselman, DN
Haven Fields, deputy athletic director poses for a portrait wearing all of his press passes and holding a Ball State football helmet and a portrait of his two sons, April 19, 2021, in his office in the Health and Physical Activity building. Jacob Musselman, DN

It’s early 2016, 10 months before Haven Fields’ first son, Haven Jr., is born. Fields is sitting down every day, writing in a journal he will eventually give to his firstborn and, in time, his other son, Hendrix.

Whether it is a sentence or a whole page, Ball State’s deputy athletics director wants his sons — who he has with his "unbelievable, highly intelligent, caring" wife, Mya Fields — to know what was on his mind.

“Fatherhood is really important to me,” Fields said. “I didn’t have anybody sharing any of that with me. I didn’t have anybody showing me things I needed to do. Having two sons, I will be able to teach them things that no one ever taught me and had to learn on my own.”

The circle of life.

It was a humid summer day at Coral Reef Park in Miami. Fields’ mother, Retta Mitchell-Brown, signed him up for summer camp. As camp was wrapped up, a youth football team began practicing.

“Where’s Haven?” his mother said as she arrived to pick him up from camp.

The camp’s coordinator then told Mitchell-Brown Fields was playing football. Sweating in 65-degree weather, he ran over to the coaches, put his name down and immediately joined the team. From there, Fields fell in love with the game, and it became a fundamental part of his life.

Mitchell-Brown was a single mother raising Fields and his sister, so she looked at football as a way to keep Fields out of trouble. 

“It was good to keep him busy,” Mitchell-Brown said. “Being a single parent, he wasn’t allowed to go outside if I had to go to work or something. Haven stayed so busy that he didn’t really have an outdoor life.” 

Football was just the beginning. Fields went to Miami Palmetto High School, where, along with football, he played baseball, basketball and soccer. Although he said playing multiple sports gave him great opportunities and even better experiences, Fields was always drawn to where it began.

Haven Fields, deputy athletic director looks through a book of pictures of his two sons Haven Jr, 4, and Hendrix, 2, April 19, 2021, in his office in the Health and Physical Activity building. Jacob Musselman, DN

He received his first offer to play collegiate football from Pittsburgh as a sophomore in high school. Before graduating, Fields visited Auburn, Florida State, Purdue, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Georgia and Northwestern, but it came down to Florida State and Auburn.

“I told him wherever he went, I would support him,” Mitchell-Brown said. “Haven wasn’t the type to go out and party — I think that is part of the reason he didn’t want to go to Florida State. He wanted to go somewhere quiet.”

Being close to home and his parents was important to Fields. His father lived in Atlanta, which is an hour and 45-minute drive from Auburn. He wanted to get closer to his father, who was not around much when he was a child.

“I knew I wanted to stay in the South,” Fields said. “I went home, prayed, spent time with my mom — who is my rock. I thought it would be great to be closer to my dad because we hadn’t had a relationship.”

Fields chose Auburn, played for the Tigers from 1996-99 and earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2001. He credits his mother for keeping him focused on school and not getting distracted because she understood the importance of being a first-generation college student. 

“She realized that it was a dream of mine,” Fields said. “While she realized football was important, that is never the thing we discussed much of. She always pushed me academically. I didn’t understand it at the time, but, now, I do.”

When it was time to hit the football field, Fields said, he had goosebumps. In high school, he played in front of as many as 12,000 people, but, this time, there were 85,000 people roaring. 

“The first time I saw him play, I had tears in my eyes,” Mitchell-Brown said. “I couldn’t believe how my child has come so far. Me, as a single parent, I was raising him and his sister, so it was great to see.”

Haven Fields, deputy athletic director adjusts a photo of his two sons on the shelving behind his desk April 19, 2021, in his office in the Health and Physical Activity building. Jacob Musselman, DN

Before graduating, Fields considered pursuing a career in physical therapy. He was always in the gym and even thought about running a gym himself. However, he gravitated toward football and spent two years away from school to play professionally, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Panthers before spending two seasons in the Canadian Football League.

After playing professionally, Fields went back to Auburn to earn his master’s degree in higher education administration and sports management.

Fields ended up in compliance and event management as a graduate assistant while pursuing his master’s. While he said compliance wasn’t for him, he found something else that would play a big part in his life.

“I found my calling in fundraising,” Fields said. “I love people — I love hearing stories. I think people and process drive everything we do. The process is being able to bring everyone together who are passionate.”

Fields assisted in the $170 million “Legends Campaign for Athletics,'' which was part of Auburn University’s “It All Begins at Auburn” capital campaign, before taking the role of associate director of athletics development. He worked there until 2006, when he earned his master’s degree.

“It gave me a sense of pride,” Fields said. “Being able to work for the university and share my story for people to understand how that impacted my life — it inspires me to want to be a part of it in a way to give back. Connecting with people and getting them excited with the programs has a lot to do with it too.”

After working as the assistant athletics director for administration and major gifts at South Alabama for the next five years, Fields moved to the Midwest and spent five years in Illinois, running a satellite office in Chicago as the university’s associate director of development. He later co-solicited $20 million for the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center — the largest gift in Illinois’ Division of Intercollegiate Athletics history.

“Asking for it was the easiest part of it all,” Fields said. “All of the things behind the scenes of making sure they understood how this would impact the institution and how it would transform the landscape for the athletic department was the most important piece.”

Chicago was where Fields’ two sons were born, and he said the city holds a special place in his heart. After his stint in Illinois, he found Ball State and was hired by Director of Athletics Beth Goetz as deputy athletics director before the 2019-20 school year.

Haven Fields, deputy athletic director moves his mouse around a custom mousepad his wife gifted him April 19, 2021, in his office in the Health and Physical Activity building. Jacob Musselman, DN

“He is just so highly regarded, and his name came up,” Goetz said. “Through that process, we started building a relationship, and it became clear, as we interviewed him, that he was the best fit for Ball State.” 

Fields said it would be a rewarding experience to work next to someone who would push him, and said he is grateful to have a boss who is always pushing him. The reason he came to Ball State was because of the leadership.

The way Fields connects with people is part of the reason Goetz hired him, she said, because it is a special gift that aligns with Ball State’s values.

“From day one, he has been able to build great relationships, both internally and across our campus,” Goetz said. “He has brought a lot of great ideas from a development standpoint and fundraising. I think he has put in place some ideas that will benefit us for years to come.”

Fields said some of his goals are to continue engaging constituents and sharing the excitement about the university. He also said he is focused on serving student-athletes at the highest level possible to provide the most impactful experience.

He said his experiences, all the way from a 6-year-old signing up to play football to working at Ball State years later, have shaped and molded him as father, husband and the person he is today. 

The circle of life.

While he's still learning, Fields said, he's striving to be the best husband, father and colleague he can.

“The effort is what counts — not only as a father, but what I do every day in this athletic department,” Fields said. “When you think about being a father, or in any of these roles, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Contact Ian Hansen with comments at imhansen@bsu.edu or on Twitter @ianh_2.

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