The bar for athletic director introductions in college sports was raised by UMKC on Monday, in ceremony and significance.
Before Carla Wilson took the podium at a Sprint Center gala, six other speakers addressed an audience of about 150 friends, family and student-athletes.
A jazz band played. Kansas City mayor Sly James arrived to offer his congratulations.
All for an announcement that had already been made by UMKC late last week, and for what amounted to a promotion. The school removed Wilson’s interim tag, which she had held since July, when predecessor Tim Hall left to become athletic director at Maryland-Baltimore County.
But there was meaning to the celebration beyond naming a new boss of UMKC’s 16 sports.
According to the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators, Wilson becomes the only African-American woman athletic director in Division I who doesn’t work at a historically black college or university.
“It’s significant at this time, but I hope there’s a day when it’s not significant, where there are a lot of minority leaders and female leaders in college athletics,” Wilson said. “But right now there are not.
“I preferred to be judged on my work as an athletic director.”
Wilson is one of 33 female athletic directors among 346 Division I programs, said Patti Phillips, chief executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators, based in Kansas City.
“This is a big deal,” Phillips said. “We’re moving on, we’re moving up and times are changing. It’s a tough road for women to break that barrier, and those who do it, trust me, are doing it because they’re really good.”
UMKC didn’t have to look far to find Wilson. She was just down the hall, having been employed by UMKC since 1988, just after the school moved to NCAA Division I.
Her UMKC roots run even deeper. Wilson grew up in Clarskville, Mo., north of St. Louis, and attended UMKC, playing intramural sports.
“I’ve seen more people come and go than most,” Wilson said.
Wilson worked in the university accounting and budget offices and moved into athletics 16 years ago. She had served as UMKC’s senior associate athletic director for business and administration, and as the school’s senior women’s administrator since 2007.
She has served on several NCAA committees and in 2012 was chosen Division I administrator of the year by the college women’s athletic adminstrators.
Since joining athletics, Wilson has worked with five men’s basketball coaches, the latest Kareem Richardson, who is in his first season. She has worked with several chancellors and athletic directors, and now Wilson deals with schools in a new league. UMKC joined the Western Athletic Conference this year.
The support of chancellor Leo Morton — he met with Missouri Valley Conference officials for a possible move earlier this year — is critical to the success of athletics, Wilson said.
The changes, plus an athletic budget increase to about $12.5 million according to federal figures for 2012-13, point UMKC in the right direction.
“We are Kansas City’s team,” Wilson said. “We’re the only Division I school in Kansas City, and we need Kansas City’s support. And we need to uphold our end of the bargain.”