Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association: Salem hosts championship games

An interview with CIAA Commissioner, Jacqie McWilliams

How does it feel to be the Commissioner of the CIAA, and what are some of the challenges you face as a female leader in a traditionally male dominated industry?
Serving as the Commissioner of one of the oldest conferences in the country is humbling and an honor. I am leading an organization whose attributes align with who I am personally and professionally. The challenges I face are not unique to what most women, specifically black women, face in leadership. We have to strategize sexism, racism and genderism and recognize it when we see it. Though I am disappointed it still exists, I don’t allow it to hinder my ability to lead and manage. I am the Commissioner and my job is based on my ability to execute despite what you see. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by leaders and mentors who respect and value my position despite my color and gender thus I don’t focus on the challenges but the opportunities.

You are a former student-athlete, playing both volleyball and basketball. How would you describe your experience as a student-athlete at Hampton University?
I was a walk-on for both sports. I had never seen the campus and I had to take extra classes to be accepted. I heard about the success of the women’s basketball team, the coach and knew it was a majority black institution. It was the best decision I could have made to try out for both teams and to attend such an amazing university. I earned a scholarship my sophomore year and used athletics as my path to complete my degree. There is something special about being a student athlete, particularly at a HBCU and in the CIAA. Our normal was being coached by legends and being surrounded by men and women who looked like me. I was disciplined and focused to succeed and win at Hampton. It was a place that truly was my “home by the sea.” The standard of excellence was expected as a student and athlete and I embraced being a Hampton Pirate.

Why did you choose to attend a HBCU?
There were several schools I could have selected, but Hampton was my first choice. I was determined to be part of an institution that I heard was the Harvard of the South and a Historically Black College and University. I knew it was important to attend a school that would value me as a whole person and that I would be supported emotionally, spiritually and academically. The culture and the experience to be my best amongst the best were invaluable. Additionally, the friendships, community, diversity and skillsets are still a huge part of my day-to-day grounding. I would recommend all students to see a HBCU as their first choice.

As a former student-athlete at a HBCU, what changes have you seen over the years for student-athletes at HBCUs?
Interestingly, the experience of attending a HBCU is generational, and I believe that members of each generation will share that they competed in a culture that did its best to support their overall success and well-being despite the resources. Since my time campuses have invested in improving both campus and athletic facilities. There is more access for student-athlete involvement in leadership and community service programs to support the overall experience. Student athletes have more exposure and visibility through social media platforms, television and online streaming. Automatic qualification for teams to compete in the NCAA championships gives more access than when I was playing. I am happy to see that there are more full-time coaches to provide the necessary attention in building a program opposed to a coach having multiple roles as an administrator and a coach. There is still more work to do for HBCUs to remain competitive in recruiting great talent, but I see progress.

What's the forecast for HBCUs in the next 10 years?
Given the foundation of HBCUs, unfortunately I forecast that some of the challenges that have been historical to HBCUs will continue to exist for funding and enrollment. I am hopeful that those challenges will attract progressive and strategic leadership to support the mission and vision of HBCU institutions and attract some of the best students and student athletes. We are seeing growth and advancement at many of our institutions now due to progressive and thoughtful leaders who understand the value of higher education beyond just being an HBCU. It is about the experience and opportunity provided to support a student’s overall well-being.

The CIAA conference is bigger than basketball and football, break down the various schools and championships that make up the CIAA.
Founded in 1912, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) is the first African American athletic conference and one of the most recognized conferences in Division II. The CIAA conducts 14 championships attended by more than 150,000 fans from around the country. Those championships include: Men’s and Women’s Basketball; Football; Men’s and Women’s Cross Country; Volleyball; Women’s Bowling; Women’s Tennis; Golf; Men’s and Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field; and Softball. Headquartered in Charlotte, the CIAA is governed by the presidents and chancellors of its 12-member institutions: Bowie State University, Chowan University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, The Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Livingstone College, Saint Augustine's University, Shaw University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University and Winston-Salem State University.

Not showing favoritism, but of all the championships produced by the CIAA what sporting event do you enjoy watching the most and why?
I enjoy watching all of the championships equally, but as a former volleyball player I love the strategy, team dynamics and mentality needed to win the game. The best team at any given time can lose and you need each player on the court to contribute to every point. Volleyball is symbolic to the CIAA staff and membership. Everyone has to be ready to play to execute great wins and when one player is down, someone else is going to have to compensate or get you back in the game so we can move forward.

The Roanoke Valley is elated to be the host city for the CIAA Cross Country, Softball and Football championships. What led in your decision to select Salem to host these events?
We are grateful the Roanoke Valley and Salem have agreed to partner with CIAA to host these three amazing championships. It is important and necessary to be in a community that understands who we are, what we do and why we do it. Salem has history and a track record across the country for being great hosts and partners. It is about the people who are willing to connect beyond the game. The game will be executed with excellence if you have the right partners who believe in what you do and Salem believes.

Over the last decade, the CIAA has generated over $325 million in economic impact to previous host cities, what benefits can the Roanoke Valley expect from hosting these championships? 
With thoughtful planning and engagement of the fans, alumni, sponsors and community, Roanoke Valley can expect to have great exposure through CIAA marketing and visibility efforts prior and during each of the championships. This alone will support increased interest to attend events and to be part of the community during CIAA championships. We seek to engage like never before with the community, former alumni and potential CIAA students and student athletes.

For someone who has not attended the CIAA Football Championship what should one expect?
Great CIAA football and a community atmosphere. We will create the best student-athlete experience and provide a homecoming atmosphere for our fans, alumni and sponsors.

What advice would you give to high school student-athletes with desires to one day play in a CIAA championship?
The advice I would give is that your preparation to play in a CIAA championship begins with you first being a champion in the classroom, community and within your family. You must understand your role on the team and how it plays a critical part for team and individual success. Your desire must extend beyond the field; CIAA is about building on tradition, developing leaders and giving back to your community.

Beyond buying a ticket to the CIAA championships how can the Roanoke Valley Community support the CIAA conference? 
The Roanoke Valley community can help spread the word that CIAA is coming into the community. Follow us on social media platforms, share information as received and celebrate the great traditions we will bring leading up, during and after. The community embracing our fans, celebrating our student athletes truly makes the decision to host in city worthwhile.

CIAA Website and Social Media:
● Website: TheCIAA.com
● Facebook: The CIAA
● Instagram/Snapchat: CIAASports
● Twitter: CIAAForLife

Other Articles From The October 2017 Issue