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NCAA’s Carpenter builds on her career

By Greg Johnson

After nearly a decade at the NCAA national office, Jacqie Carpenter is set to become intercollegiate athletics’ latest pioneer.

In September, she’ll become what is believed to be the first African-American female to ever serve as commissioner of an NCAA-affiliated conference when she begins her duties at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).

But on her way to that very public accomplishment, Carpenter first established herself outside of the spotlight.

At the NCAA, she has been one of the people who works behind the scenes to make sure the Men’s Final Four has more of an impact than just the entertainment of watching good college basketball.

Carpenter, who has been at the national office for nine years – the last four as a member of the Division I men’s basketball staff – works on community events and hotel accommodations for the marquee championship.

Her mission with the community initiatives and programs at the Final Four city: Make it EASY (education, athletics, service and youth). She has also worked with local organizing committees on youth initiatives that can range from early childhood to high school. The legacy programs can deal with topics such as a Final Four host city’s program to help the homeless or other issues unique to that community.

“We get a lot of requests from each city that hosts the Final Four,” Carpenter said. “I sift through those and find the ones that fit missions and goals of the Association.”

Carpenter had a personal interest in the 2011 Final Four in Houston, where her 5-year-old daughter, Samone, participated in the dribble to the arena. Carpenter, who was a volleyball and basketball student-athlete at Hampton, can already see the competitiveness entering her daughter’s personality.

“Samone prepared herself for the dribble,” Carpenter said. “She dribbled the whole way except when my husband, Jonathan, touched her back and tried to guide her. It made her mad. She was saying, ‘Please don’t touch my back. You’re messing me up.’ ”

Carpenter remembers getting upset whenever she lost at anything as a child. That included playing board and card games with her mother.

“I used to cry,” Carpenter said. “It’s funny watching my daughter now. She’s a sore loser like I was.”

Carpenter grew up in an Army family, which meant she moved around a lot in her childhood. The place she lived in most was Colorado Springs, where her father was stationed at Fort Carson.

She graduated from Sierra High School in Colorado and was inducted into the hall of fame there after a versatile career in volleyball, basketball, and track and field.

Carpenter was recruited to play at several colleges in the Midwest, but she wanted to attend a historically black institution. She received some advice from her high school mentors and decided Hampton was the place she wanted to study and compete.

She decided to walk on the basketball team and play volleyball, too. Like many college students, she struggled with her grades after experiencing independence for the first time in her life. That led to a meeting with her basketball coach, James Sweat.

“He called me in his office and said, ‘Little Jack, you are going to have to do better than this or you’re going to have to go home,’ ” Carpenter said. “I knew I couldn’t go home because my parents would kill me. He told me I needed to get serious about school.”

From that point on, A’s and B’s became the norm. She also contributed to a basketball team that won the Division II championship in 1988.

“I had never sat the bench in my life, but the one thing I figured I could do was play defense,” said Carpenter, who received a B.A. in psychology at Hampton in 1991 and a master’s degree in sports management and administration at Temple in 1993. “I was able to get playing time, and I scored seven points in the championship game.”

Besides scoring 1,090 points during her hoops career, Carpenter also stood out in volleyball. Her No. 12 jersey is the only retired number in program history.

She said her student-athlete days have prepared her for her professional career that included stints in athletics administration and coaching at Morgan State, Norfolk State, Virginia Union and the CIAA.

“I understand what the student-athletes are going though with the time and commitment,” Carpenter said. “It’s the same in your professional life. You have to have a passion for it, and it has to be part of your life. I’m not saying it should identify who you are, but it has to be something you enjoy doing.”

Portions of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of NCAA Champion magazine.