Iowa Western Community College
Toward the end of her 15-year run as Head Volleyball Coach at Iowa Western Community College, Brenda Hampton thought it would be tough to give up her seat on the sidelines. Now, 10 years into her tenure as the school's Athletic Director, Hampton can't imagine going back.
As volleyball coach, Hampton compiled a 504-199 record, guiding the Reivers to a dozen 30-win seasons and three trips to the NJCAA championships from 1999 to 2001. In her final eight years of coaching, she also served as assistant athletic director.
Since becoming Athletic Director, Hampton has expanded the athletic department from five sports to its current offering of 19. During the 2010-11 school year, 17 of those teams participated in their respective national tournaments and Iowa Western finished third in the National Alliance of Two Year College Athletic Administrators (NATYCAA) Cup standings.
Hampton is very involved on the national level, serving as Women's Director for NJCAA Region XI and recently completing a two-year term on the NJCAA Executive Committee. She also serves as Secretary on the Executive Board of NATYCAA.
In this interview, Hampton discusses her strategy for adding new teams, the challenges of working at the junior college level, and how she has developed great working relationships with upper-level administrators.
AM: What do you enjoy most about the junior college setting?
Hampton: There are a lot of athletes who get overlooked by four-year colleges, and we provide them with an opportunity. Even for athletes who do have a chance to play at the NCAA Division I level, a lot of them come this route because they know they'll get playing time right away as freshmen.
Specific to Iowa Western, I like that we have a president, Dr. Dan Kinney, who is a big supporter of athletics. There are a lot of junior colleges that have only a handful of sports and might excel in just one or two. But across the board, all of our sports are successful. We have that reputation now, so student-athletes want to come here.
What has allowed the department to achieve success in so many sports?
We have been able to provide good practice and playing facilities, and we just built a brand new student center with a cafeteria and bookstore. We also have on-campus housing for more than 1,000 students. Those things all contribute to our success in being able to recruit.
The other key is that I'm full time as an athletic director, so I can commit all my energy to the program. All my head coaches are also full time. That's not typical at most junior colleges and has been huge for us.
With many colleges cutting teams, how has Iowa Western been able to more than triple its offerings in the last decade?
Dr. Kinney sees the value in having a successful athletic program and how it will increase enrollment for the college. He got our board of trustees to understand this and then we systematically started adding sports. One goal he had was to add a football program, but we didn't do that right away. We started with soccer, track, and golf, and then we headed down the football route.
Once we began the process to add football, the start-up costs were 100-percent covered by donations. We have a group of people we call the Football Founders who contributed dollars to start the sport. The first year we built two full-size practice fields and ordered uniforms and equipment--all paid for by the Football Founders. Now that we have more than 150 students enrolled who participate in football, their tuition and fees sustain the program.
We did the same thing with wrestling. The University of Nebraska-Omaha dropped wrestling, so there was no college wrestling program within 150-200 miles of here. The Wrestling Founders stepped forward and paid for the equipment needed to get wrestling started.
Adding sports means hiring coaches. What do you look for in candidates?
A coach here needs to understand the importance of academics. One of our goals is to transfer our athletes on to four-year schools, and if they're not reaching their academic goals and progressing toward graduation, which will enable them to transfer, then we're not doing our jobs.
Junior college teams also have a very high turnover rate, so the coaches here have to be very driven and ambitious in recruiting--you almost have to recruit your whole team every year. Coaches have to be willing to go out, beat the bushes, and be a grinder on the recruiting trail.
What is your role in helping your student-athletes transfer to four-year universities?
The department supports our coaches by helping them go to their coaches' association conventions. There, they're able to network with the four-year college coaches so they can know who we are as a school and what we're doing. This year we're also sending a few coaches to the NCAA seminar on academics and transfer requirements so we can stay current on all that information.
How do you mentor your coaching staff?
I meet with most of my head coaches on a frequent basis, either once a week or every other week, depending on the coach. The meetings provide a time for myself and the coach to have a conversation about what's going on with his or her team. What does the coach need help with, and what are any problems or concerns the coach may have? I also share my expectations.
The meetings provide an open and honest line of communication. I think our coaches know they're going to be able to run their programs the way they want to, and I'm not going to be out there micromanaging, but they also have a pretty clear understanding of my expectations.
The other thing I really emphasize to my staff is a teamwork philosophy. Each team can't be out there alone. For example, the softball team will work the concessions stand at volleyball games, or the soccer team will sell tickets at the baseball games. We work together to get everything done, and we don't rely too much on other departments on campus. We don't need the maintenance staff to put out the chairs--we just do it ourselves.
How have you been able to develop working relationships with upper-level administrators?
I'm one of the lucky ones, because I report directly to my president and meet with him every week. Once per month I also give a report to the president's cabinet, updating them on the athletic program and answering any questions they might have. Dr. Kinney has done a great job of allowing me the time to communicate with upper-level management.
Are there any challenges specific to working at a junior college?
Sometimes it's hard to only have the athletes for two years. You'll have a great team and then those players are immediately out the door. Coaches spend a lot of time developing athletes, and they leave right as the coach has them where they want them. That's difficult, but we know that's our role.
Recruiting is also sometimes an issue because there's still an old-fashioned stigma that junior college is where all the bad kids go. That's not true at all these days. Some people also think our credits won't transfer, but we've had kids transfer all over the country at every single level without a problem. Our coaches do a pretty good job of dispelling those myths in the recruiting process.
You served as tournament director for the NJCAA Division I National Volleyball Tournament in 2007, 2008, and 2009. What went into bidding for and hosting the event?
We feel like the Council Bluffs and Omaha area has a lot to offer a national tournament. This is a very sports-oriented area, and we have the Mid-America Center here in Council Bluffs, which is a nice, smaller events center.
A lot of people on our campus worked together to put in a bid, which was presented to the NJCAA Championship Events Committee. We won the rights to host for three years. What followed was a ton of meetings to find sponsors and recruit workers and volunteers. A lot of teams on our campus worked the tournament. It was a great event, and we may bid on something again in the future, because I know the NJCAA had a great experience here.
How did you get involved on the national level?
It started with the NJCAA annual meeting. The first few years I went as a visiting athletic director just to learn more about the politics of how they make decisions, how they vote, and things like that. After a few years, my region voted me to be the women's region director, which I've now been doing for eight years. From that, I met a lot of other athletic directors, who encouraged me to get involved in NACDA and NATYCAA.
They're all really great networking groups. You can get your questions answered and find out how people are doing things that you can put in place at your school. Now, I'm trying to pass on what I experienced when I first started by encouraging other athletic directors to get involved and come to the conventions.
What do you think about the new NJCAA rule that limits the number of international students that can be on a roster?
International students have been discussed for a long time. The rule is a good place for the NJCAA to start so we can begin to find that balance between local athletes and international athletes. At some point that got a little out of whack.
I don't think this will be the final decision that will stand forever. It'll be tweaked as time goes on, and I don't have a problem with that, as long as we're tweaking it to work for everybody. We kind of went from one extreme to another. I think we'll eventually get to a place where we find the right balance.
Are there any other issues currently on your radar?
Travel is a big deal. There are three divisions right now in junior college, and we play Division I. In some sports, there are only two or three schools in our area that are also Division I. If you're trying to play a competitive schedule, which we are, travel becomes very expensive. Some schools might only have to travel 30 minutes, but we're often traveling three or four hours to play.
What are your goals for the future?
Several years ago, I might have had a different answer. But I've now been here 25 years and I feel like I've found a home. I've had some great experiences here. Many of the sports we've added are in their infancy, and I feel we still have a lot to accomplish.
It may seem like we're doing really well, but I think we're just getting started. I have my sights set on being here for a while and getting a lot more done.