By: Heart of America Athletic Conference Staff
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Heart of America Athletic Conference (HAAC), based in Kansas City, Mo., has announced the hiring of Lori Thomas as its new commissioner beginning July 1, 2014. Thomas will replace longtime commissioner Larry Lady, who is stepping down after 21 years in the position.
Thomas started with the NAIA in 1998 as a Marketing Assistant and was promoted through the ranks to her current position as Senior Vice President for Membership and Character Initiatives. Thomas' appointment as Commissioner makes her the first female Commissioner in NAIA history.
"The search committee had several strong candidates for the position and Lori rose immediately to the top," said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis, current president of the HAAC. "She is committed to a model of intercollegiate athletics based on character development and her experience with the NAIA will help her tremendously in managing and leading the HAAC, already one of the top conferences in the NAIA."
Lori also serves as a senior executive while overseeing human resources for the national office staff. Since 2004, Lori has supervised the NAIA championships department which is responsible for 23 national championship events, emerging sports, site selection, host contracts, championship merchandising and apparel, coaches associations, councils and committees.
"We, of course, have mixed emotions about losing a dynamic leader on our staff and an experienced member of our team," said Jim Carr, NAIA President and CEO, "but we are excited Lori will still be an integral part of the NAIA family. The HAAC is incredibly fortunate to have Lori Thomas lead the conference to continued success".
Prior to joining the NAIA, Lori served as an assistant volleyball coach at Missouri State (1993-1996) and the University of Tulsa (1996-1998).
Born and raised in Kansas City, Lori began her post secondary education at Johnson County Community College. While at JCCC, Lori played volleyball and basketball and was recognized as a Junior College All-American in volleyball in 1988. She then went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Business Management – emphasis in Human Resources from Idaho State University in 1992. Following graduation, Lori moved to Kieldrecht, Belgium to play professional volleyball before starting her coaching career. Lori was also a member of the Kansas City Lightning women's professional volleyball team in 1996.
Lori is in both the National Junior College Athletics Association Hall of Fame and Johnson County Community College Hall of Fame for the sport of volleyball. She was also inducted into Idaho State University's Hall of Fame for volleyball and basketball.
"I have a great passion for character-driven intercollegiate athletics and look forward to working closer with the institutions' administration, coaches and student-athletes," said Thomas. "The HAAC, with 10 member schools, expanding to 12 beginning in 2015, has a great foundation both academically and competitively. I am honored and humbled to follow Larry Lady as commissioner. His immense efforts over these past two decades have helped build the HAAC into one of the best in the nation."
Founded in 1971, the Heart of America Athletic Conference currently has 10 member schools from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. The conference manages 20 intercollegiate varsity sports programs and all 10 conference schools are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.