New junior college director says JUCO safe in Junction
By PATTI ARNOLD
Mary Ellen Leicht had six months of on-the-job training as the acting executive director of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Monday, that on-the-job training turned into the real thing.
Leicht was appointed the NJCAA’s third executive director since its inception in 1939.
She takes over for Wayne Baker, who abruptly resigned in January, citing personal and health reasons and the need to turn his focus to his family.
She is the first woman to run an athletic association in the United States. The NJCAA has 525 members, second only to the NCAA.
Leicht said Monday she doesn’t plan to reinvent the organization, and doesn’t plan to tinker with the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series in Grand Junction.
“You guys in Grand Junction with the JUCO World Series are so successful for us, I’d be an idiot to consider changing anything to keep that from going on as one of our premier and successful championships,” she said.
“The committee does a great job and certainly I’d like to become more familiar with the ins and outs. I got an email from Jamie (Hamilton, the tournament director) this morning and we’ve been talking a little bit.
“We’re going to set a time where we can meet and discuss some things relevant to the tournament, but the expertise on that committee, knowing the community and the players involved, I can’t see any of that changing.”
The Grand Junction Baseball Committee has eight years remaining on a 10-year contract to run the JUCO World Series.
Leicht spent several days in Grand Junction during this year’s tournament and said other than the persistent rain, “it’s all good. Can you do something about the rain next year?”
Hamilton said he’s pleased with Leicht’s hiring.
“The good news is the 51 years’ worth of work we’ve done, the NJCAA knows not to mess with it,” he said. “They want to enhance it. We’ll sit down with her and let her know how we got to this point. I did the same thing when Wayne took over.
“I’m happy for her. The NJCAA is not recognized the same way the NCAA is. Wayne helped elevate it and I think she will have the opportunity to continue that legacy.”
Leicht joined the NJCAA in 1989 as the eligibility administrator and was soon promoted to associate executive director, a position she held until Baker’s resignation. She sees her one of biggest challenges to be marketing the NJCAA.
“I definitely don’t feel we need to scrap everything and start over,” she said. “We’ve got a great foundation laid by George (Killian) and Wayne over the years.
“As we progress, from a technology standpoint, we have to look to make the NJCAA and the two-year athlete more visible on the Internet and so forth. That’s an avenue we’ll look at. As always, everybody is talking marketing and we’re certainly looking at that, what we can take advantage of.”
The JUCO World Series and the men’s Division I basketball championship in Hutchinson, Kan., are the two longest standing NJCAA tournaments, and Leicht attended both this year to see why they are so successful.
“The men’s basketball championship and your committee in Grand Junction have been in place for so long and have done such a great job transitioning people in and making it work,” she said. “The tournament itself, whether I’m there or not, it’s gonna run.
“Hopefully we can make some suggestions. New ideas are never a bad thing. They might not work out, but with a fresh set of eyes from our office, we can only hope to be able to add positive ideas.”