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DIII minority grant program plants seeds for careers in athletics

Students, administrators convene to create an ethnic minority pipeline into college athletics

More than 40 ethnic minority Division III students converged at the NCAA Convention last week thanks to a grant program designed to help more minorities forge careers in Division III college athletics.

Data suggest that Division III badly needs more diversity among its coaches and athletics administrators, so the Division III Diversity and Inclusion Working Group recommended creating a grant to bring minority students who aspire to be athletics administrators and coaches to this year’s NCAA Convention. There, the working group suggested, the students would be able to learn more about the profession and make valuable connections that could bolster their careers. After the recommendation was approved by the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee, the division spent roughly $50,000 to fund trips for more than 40 students, the majority of whom were athletes, to attend the Convention in San Antonio.

“It was unbelievable the amount of faculty and student-athletes I was able to connect with,” said Elizabeth Kia, a junior at Newbury College who plays softball and soccer. “This not only taught me about sports and the administration of it, but life lessons that will push me to be better.”

Though 40 percent of students at Division III institutions are ethnic minorities, only 23 percent of student-athletes fit that description. The disparity is even more striking among athletics directors: Of the division’s 460 athletics directors, only 28 (6 percent) are minorities. The proportions are only marginally better among assistant and associate athletics directors (7 percent) and head coaches (8 percent). More heartening, though, is the appetite for change among current administrators and student-athletes – more than 90 students were nominated by campus or conference administrators to take part in the program and 42 were accepted. 

Nicole Hill, a junior who plays soccer at McDaniel College, has worked as a basketball team manager for seven years. Despite the experience, she worries she won’t be able to find a path into athletics administration after she graduates. “I lacked direction into the industry,” she said. “I was most impressed with the fact that the NCAA actually chose to invest in minority student-athletes in such a bold way. … Honestly, there was no way that I could have afforded this opportunity that has already set me on a path for success.”

Hill connected with University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Athletics Director Darryl Sims, who encouraged her to stay in touch as her career progresses and introduced her to several of his peers at the Convention. Sims was one of 22 Division III administrators who volunteered their time to serve as mentors to the participants by helping them with goal setting, acting as a resource throughout the Convention and maintaining connections long after the event.

Armand Stricklin, a senior who plays football at Knox College, made a point to interact with athletics directors and presidents from several institutions. Stricklin hopes to one day work in the industry and took heed of their advice to help him attain that goal.

“I learned that you have to be persistent for something you want,” he said. “Speak up and get out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand along the way, but don’t expect a helping hand when you haven’t already tried for yourself.”

While affording students an opportunity to network with peers and administrators was the program’s core mission, it wasn’t the sole reason college students made the trip. They also had an opportunity to attend the NCAA Honors Celebration and have their voices heard during conference meetings and at the Division III Issues Forum, where members debated rules pertaining to the structure of playing and practice seasons.

“The most valuable part of my experience would be getting a chance to give my opinion in our conference meeting and during the round table at the Issues Forum,” said Roemello Cook, an Ohio Wesleyan University senior who is on the football and track and field teams. “It shows how much the administrators value the opinion of student-athletes.”