When the NAIA membership gathered at the Awards Banquet Sunday at the NAIA Convention, it was an emotional evening. Wally Schwartz, retired NAIA staffer, had passed away unexpectedly in January, and it was time to honor him and his incredible contributions to the NAIA. A tribute video was followed by the introduction of his wife Betty and two grown children. Thomas Howell, commissioner of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, paid tribute to Schwartz.
"Wally was the kind of man who exemplified the characteristics of the NAIA," Howell said. "As his former colleagues say, he was 'NAIA to the core.'" Howell noted that Schwartz, an expert on NAIA rules, and was clear that his priority was the student-athlete. "Wally would always say, 'the tie goes to the runner,' meaning that if there was any way to make the student-athlete eligible, you tried to do that," Howell said.
Schwartz had been a member of the NAIA staff from 1968 to his retirement in 1995. He was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1990. The NAIA established the annual Wally Schwartz award in 2001 to recognize a faculty athletics representative "who exemplifies the loyalty, enthusiasm and honesty" Schwartz displayed during his career.
This year's winner of the Wally Schwartz Award was Ron Wilde, faculty athletics representative at Carroll College (Mont.). Wilde noted that the award meant so much, in part because of its namesake.
"I'm extremely honored to accept this award named after a man I respected and worked with for many years," Wilde said. Wilde reminisced that his experience with the NAIA went all the way back to the age of nine when he attended the NAIA National Track and Field Championships with his father. Thirty years later, Wilde became a faculty athletics representative, which he joked he agreed to do on a temporary basis-launching a long and successful career.
"It has been a very gratifying experience working with student-athletes, especially in an organization like the NAIA that places such a high value on scholarship and character," Wilde said. "The NAIA has figured out that scholarship and character make a student a better athlete, and the skills acquired in athletics make the athlete a better student. Imagine that!"
Harold Hubbard and E.L. Hutton received the NAIA's highest honor, induction into the NAIA Hall of Fame. Both were inducted into the meritorious service category.
Hubbard, who has spent the past 47 years at the University of the Cumberlands, is a professor of business administration and accounting and has served on the Cumberlands Athletics Committee since its inception in 1966. He also has served as faculty athletics representative and on numerous committees for Cumberlands.
Hubbard began working closely with the NAIA in 1974. Since then, he has served as Eligibility Chair for the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC), the Mid South Conference (MSC) and the Association of Independent Institutions. He also has served on the NAIA National Eligibility Committee and on the Constitution and Bylaws Committee since 1974.
Hubbard looked back to his first involvement with the NAIA as a faculty athletics representative and as a longtime member of the eligibility committee.
"That was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with the NAIA," he said. "Every day for the last 38 years, the NAIA has been as much of my day as being a professor and a department chair. I'm sure there were a few bad days in there somewhere, but I honestly don't remember a one of them. I have truly enjoyed my work. Without a doubt, the greatest part of my time with the NAIA was the people-especially the student-athletes."
This year's other inductee into the NAIA Hall of Fame was E.L. Hutton, the founding commissioner of the TranSouth Athletic Conference and now commissioner emeritus. An attorney, Hutton served as a commissioner and as an assignor of officials for 40 years. Hutton reflected on how his childhood on an Arkansas cotton farm and experience as a World War II Veteran shaped his views.
Under Hutton's leadership, the TranSouth conference was one of the first conferences in the nation to implement automatic penalties for student-athletes and coaches who were ejected from contests.
Hutton also served as supervisor of officials for the NAIA Division I Women's National Basketball tournament. The institutions in conferences where he has served as commissioner have won numerous NAIA national championships and have had numerous all-Americans and academic all-Americans. Sutton's wife of 64 years, Sally Hutton, was unable to attend due to illness. Hutton pointed out that her role in his NAIA work was not to be overlooked.
"The constant in my family is my wife," he said. "There were many times when she took care of everything else so I could do what I loved with the NAIA."
Hutton has been a proponent for higher standards of conduct throughout his career as a commissioner. Whether he was conducting officials' camps or assigning officials, Hutton took great pride in advancing the professional conduct of the NAIA's game officials. Hutton shared some words of wisdom he had given to coaches whose behavior was under review.
"I would tell them, 'If you would coach on the sidelines as if your own mother were standing right there beside you, your conduct would never need to be reviewed,'" he said.
NAIA individual award winners:
• Darin Wilson, formerly the athletics director of Union College (Ky.) was the recipient of the NAIA Athletics Director of the Year. Wilson, who was named the first-ever athletics director at Georgia Gwinnett College in August 2011, thanked the many individuals who had helped him along the way. "Any time you win a national award or a conference award, you are reminded that it's not about yourself," he said. "It's really about all those folks who were willing to help you. There are so many willing to share ideas in the NAIA." (Georgia Gwinnett was one of four new institutions accepted into the NAIA by the Council of Presidents at the NAIA Convention. See story here for more information.)
• John Sullivan, commissioner of the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC), was the recipient of the NAIA Charles Morris Award. This award, initiated in memory of former NAIA associate executive director Charles Morris, is bestowed on an NAIA member who has made significant contributions as an administrator. Sullivan, a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, has led the AAC since 1998 and is vice chairman of the NAIA National Administrative Council. "I really enjoy this job," Sullivan said. "The professionals in this room and the student-athletes you all represent are what motivate me."
• Caleb McLean, former track and field student-athlete at Wayland Baptist University (Texas), was the recipient of the Dr. Leroy Walker Champions of Character Award to recognize McLean's athletics and academics excellence and commitment to the Champions of Character program's five core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership. "I am beyond blessed and privileged to win this award," Mclean said, noting that his parents' influence had been instrumental. "I wouldn't be where I am today if not for my parents. They have been the model parents, the model Christians for me," Mclean said, adding, "My coaches also were my role models and my coaches helped groom me, not only for the track and for the classroom, but for life."
• Chad McDowell, head men's basketball coach at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, was the recipient of the NAIA Coach of Character Award, which recognized his commitment to living and modeling the five core values of the Champions of Character program. McDowell, who reinstated the men's basketball program at Shreveport in the 2003-04 season, was recognized as the type of coach who recognizes that life is more than just his sport. "He lives the example he wants to set for his team," noted the award presenter, John McCarthy, NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament Director.