A Love of Sports and of Leading the Way: University of North Carolina Wilmington's Kelly Mehrtens Is Part of a Small but Growing Club of Women Athletic Directors at Division I Schools

By Elfman, Lois | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Love of Sports and of Leading the Way: University of North Carolina Wilmington's Kelly Mehrtens Is Part of a Small but Growing Club of Women Athletic Directors at Division I Schools


Elfman, Lois, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


When self-professed "sportaholic" Kelly Mehrtens was chosen from more than 300 applicants to be the director of athletics at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), she became one of a few Black women to lead a Division I athletic department. Mehrtens was a student-athlete at the University of Alabama, and her route to collegiate athletic administration was closely tied to her bachelor's degree in commerce and business administration.

After graduating from Alabama in 1986, she trained in the discus at the University of Florida in the hope of making the 1988 Olympic team. When her competitive days were winding down, Mehrtens assumed she'd take a job in an accounting firm. It was a random question from the senior women's sports administrator at Florida, Ann Marie Rogers, that set her on the career path at which she's excelled for nearly two decades.

"She asked, 'Do you have any interest in getting into athletic administration?'" says Mehrtens, 44, who began her UNCW position in July 2007. "I'll never forget my response. It was, 'I don't want to coach.' She said athletic administration was changing, and schools are looking for more specialized people."

In addition to understanding what takes place on the fields of play, athletic administration involves financial decision-making, and in the late 1980s college and university athletic departments began to hire more people who combined both skill sets.

Mehrtens' first job was as special assistant to the director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society and as assistant athletic director in NU's women's athletic department. NU is in Boston, and immediately Mehrtens was confronted with "the constant variety of sports."

"They had ice hockey. I'm from the South. I hadn't really seen ice hockey or ever been on any kind of skates. Didn't understand the terminology. Or crew. Or field hockey," she says. She embraced the chance to learn about each of these sports and to understand what funny words like coxswain meant.

As she progressed in her career--going from NU to the University of Miami to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a master's degree in education, to the University of Kansas--her jobs encompassed both women's and men's sports. At Illinois, her senior management duties included overseeing the creation of a softball program and construction of a $1.7 million softball facility in Champaign.

"A lot of times people would say, 'Oh, you're the finance person for women's sports,'" Mehrtens says. …

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