This is part of a series of articles highlighting the recipients of the NAIA’s highest awards, which are bestowed at the annual NAIA Convention.
By Kay Hawes, NAIA director of marketing and public relations
Corey Westra is living the dream, and it’s one that fits him and the NAIA quite well. Westra is the commissioner of the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC), and this year he was the winner of the 2013 Charles Morris award, which is given to an NAIA member who has made significant contributions as an athletics administrator.
Westra is known for his new ideas, but he also has a solid background in NAIA history, community and tradition. Westra is a graduate of NAIA- and GPAC-member Dordt College (Iowa), as are his sister and brother. His mother is a graduate of GPAC-member Northwestern College (Iowa). For Westra, the NAIA is all about family—being able to live close to his immediate family, working with colleagues who have become like family, and building his family along with his work. Westra even met his wife, Anne, because of an NAIA championship.
“The NAIA is family to me. And my family is very important,” Westra said. “Lori Thomas, (NAIA senior vice president for membership and character initiatives) actually introduced me to Anne, so she gets credit for that. We were brought together by the NAIA.”
Corey and Anne met in February of 2000, were engaged at Thanksgiving of that year and were married on May 19, 2001. Westra’s family now has grown to include son Aiden, 9, and daughters Meredith, 8, and Mallory, 3. Anne is an economic development specialist for Sioux City, and she also manages the city’s marketing efforts. Westra coaches Aiden in Upward Bound basketball, where he makes sure to teach NAIA Champions of Character values—even if the participants are a little younger than the target audience.
“I find myself bringing what I’ve learned in the NAIA down to the level where it makes sense for 2nd and 3rd grades. It’s refreshing to hear their take on (character),” he said.
Westra has a communications background, which serves him well in his role as commissioner of the GPAC. Westra graduated from Dordt in 1997 with a major in communications, and he is pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Briar Cliff University (Iowa), also a member of the GPAC. Prior to serving as GPAC commissioner, Westra was the conference’s sports information director. He also served as the sports information director at Dordt College, where he also was sports director for KDCR.
Westra has become synonymous with Sioux City, as he has been a longtime board member and past president of the Sioux City Sports Commission, a non-profit organization that promotes sporting events. Sioux City was named a Top Sports Destination by Sports Travel Magazine during his term as president, and he remains on the board.
“In Sioux City, the NAIA is part of the calendar,” Westra said. “We’ve tried to do a lot to promote Sioux City and to keep as a top destination. The NAIA has been a part of that. In Sioux City, the NAIA is part of the calendar. March is NAIA basketball.”
Westra also has served as the local tournament director and a tournament committee member for both the NAIA Women's Volleyball National Championship and the NAIA Women's Division II Basketball Championship in Sioux City. In 2008 he was named the recipient of the Cheryl K. Brown Meritorious Service Award for his efforts at the NAIA National Women's Division II Basketball Championship. In 2012, he was honored with the Outstanding Service Award at the NAIA Volleyball Championship.
Westra has served on numerous NAIA committees, where he has been a voice for forward thinking and a reasoned approach. He is the past chair of the NAIA National Administrative Council (NAC) and is past chair of the NAIA Council of Conferences and Independents (CACI). He has also been an officer on the board of the NAIA Sports Information Directors Association (NAIA-SIDA). Currently he is the chair-elect of the NAIA Experience and Enhancement Committee, a member of the NAIA Competitive Experience Committee, and a member of the NAIA Constitution and By-Laws Committee.
Westra is an advocate for the NAIA, in part because institutions are able to put athletics into perspective to fit their individual mission, and student-athletes are able to keep that perspective as well. “In the NAIA, athletics are really important to our institutions, but it’s a part of the whole. From a student-athlete perspective, you can be who you are as a student. You can be in a club, you can be in the band, you can be in the choir. I’ve always enjoyed that about the NAIA.”
In many ways, Westra can’t believe he’s now on the receiving end of accolades and those who want advice about a career in intercollegiate athletics. “I remember that first time I went to NACDA (National Association of Collegiate Athletics Directors) and met all the NAIA administrators. I still remember walking into that room and being welcomed aboard. I think we need to be the ones now welcoming others, and I try to do that,” he said.
And what advice would he give a new athletics administrator, starting out in the NAIA? “Get involved. Volunteer yourself. Get on a committee or subcommittee and be willing to learn,” Westra said. “And don’t be afraid to stand firm for your area of the country and be willing to work together for what’s better for the NAIA.”
And what about the future of the NAIA? Westra says the future is bright, and it’s because of the great people and the great institutions in the NAIA.
“There is a place for the NAIA today. There’s always going to be a place for small colleges. They have the best experiences and the best people involved with them. (Legendary small college football coach) Frosty Westering used to say, ‘The big time is where you are.’ Well, the NAIA is the big time to us, and to me,” Westra said.
And Corey Westra is one of the best in the big time, whether that’s in Sioux City or in all of the NAIA.