Inductee Patti Phillips: Raising the profile of women’s athletics

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Patti Phillips rose from a small-college basketball coach to becoming a leader of women's athletics. She is now the CEO of the National Association of the Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.

Patti Phillips rose from a small-college basketball coach to becoming a leader of women’s athletics. She is now the CEO of the National Association of the Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.

Like most leaders whose positive energy inspires others and creates a self-challenge to do more, Patti Phillips rarely stops to smell the roses. Which is understandable if you think about it.

As a former college basketball coach who went on to work for the NCAA and two other major organizations, her efforts are time-consuming. There’s little rest in trying to empower women in athletics and raise the profile of women’s sports.

Fortunately, one day in 2008, after nearly a decade as executive director of WIN for KC (Women Intersport Network for Kansas City), Phillips couldn’t help but marvel. A WIN for KC-sponsored triathlon drew thousands, and moms and daughters commented about the way a competition changed their lives.

“I understood that setting a goal and achieving something you never thought you could do can change you,” Phillips said. “That was the turning point” of noticing her efforts made a difference.

In reality, Phillips has positively effected change her entire career, and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Phillips for her tremendous work.

The induction, part of the Hall’s second annual Women in Sports Luncheon, is March 23 at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center in Springfield. (Ticket information is below.)

Phillips led WIN for Kansas City for 11 years and, since 2010, has overseen the Kansas City-based National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators as its Chief Executive Officer.

Under Phillips’ leadership at NACWAA, the association relocated from Charlotte, N.C., and established the “Advancement Initiative.” It provides a road map, resources and coaching for women seeking to advance into leadership positions in collegiate athletic departments.

It also creates networks and relationships with search firms, university presidents and chancellors and others in the hiring process.

It’s probably no wonder, then, that membership has more than doubled from five years ago and that the numbers of women advancing into athletic director and commissioner positions has steadily risen.

“When (athletic departments) are in a search, NACWAA is a go-to place for names and coaches. That’s something that wasn’t as formalized before,” said Vicky Chun, the director of athletics at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.

Chun is one of Phillips’ success stories. Hired as Colgate’s AD in 2014, Chun became one of 29 women leading an NCAA Division I athletics department, out of 345 schools. Colgate offers 25 sports, including football and hockey.

Chun and Phillips worked together in the 1990s at the NCAA, where Phillips was the CHAMPS/Life Skills Program Coordinator. Chun called Phillips’ energy “contagious” and the reason that everything Phillips oversees turns into success.

There, Phillips’ duties covered planning, organizing and implementing three national conferences a year. Phillips also helped in leadership training, programming and wrote curriculum for the program.

Talk about an inspirational role.

Phillips probably could have remained a college basketball coach at Ottawa University in Kansas – she was hired at age 22 – and everybody would have understood. But she kept challenging herself to empower a broader swath of women in athletics.

When the NCAA moved to Indianapolis, Phillips remained in Kansas City.

The plan was to launch her own life-skills business. She figured she would train a couple of years at WIN, a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation dedicated to leadership development in girls and women through participation in sports. It was the start of an 11-year run.

“I got to WIN and fell in love. I had the ability to reach more people and create more change,” said Phillips, a well-known keynote speaker who gave a Tedx Talk on the topic of potential in 2014. “We changed the perception in Kansas City, not only as a women’s organization but the perception of women’s ability in sports.”

WIN for KC brought in such national sports stars as ESPN commentator and former basketball standout Robin Roberts, U.S. soccer standout Julie Foudy and tennis star Billie Jean King as speakers for various events. A successful week-long event, Camp WIN, also introduced girls to 12 sports.

WIN’s triathlon arguably is her greatest legacy there. Before WIN took it over, only 200 participated. Now it annually sells out with more than 1,000 participants, many of them first-time entrants.

It’s no surprise to Tom Waggoner, senior vice president, managing principal of the Kansas City office of HOK, a global design, architecture, engineering and urban planning firm.

“One of the things I tell people – and I joke with her about this all the time – is not to drink the Kool-Aid (at WIN events),” said Waggoner, a Kansas City Sports Commission board member and NACWAA supporter, noting Phillips’ energy is contagious. “She just gives 120 percent, and it screams off her that she really does believe in it.”

To Phillips, the key became winning over moms and daughters as well as men. Her goal was to show that supporting women’s athletics and getting involved would lead to healthy lives and possibly advancing into influential careers.

For instance, WIN for KC would sponsor events tied in to the Big 12 women’s basketball tournament, and formed the WIN for KC youth board.

“Overall, I always believed in the power of sports on so many levels,” Phillips said. “Sports is the great arena in our culture that brings all sorts of different people together. Sports is the rallying point for people, and I think there is real power in that.”

WANT TO GO?

What: The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame will host the Women in Sports Luncheon presented by the Bee Payne-Stewart Foundation at 11 a.m. on March 23 at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center in Springfield.

Tickets: $40, and sponsorship tables are available by calling 417-889-3100.

Honorees

  • Cheryl Burnett, Centralia native and former Missouri State Lady Bears coach, as a Missouri Sports Legend. A specially commissioned sculpture, cast in bronze, will line the Legends Walkway alongside such Missouri greats as Stan Musial, Len Dawson and Norm Stewart.
  • The Lady Bears 1992 Final Four team, the state’s first Division I team – men’s or women’s – to reach the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
  • The Lady Bears 2001 Final Four team, the state’s only other Division I team to reach the national semifinals.
  • Cathy Reynolds, a Springfield native who at age 16 won the Missouri State Championship and went on to play 17 years on the LPGA Tour.
  • Patti Phillips, who for 11 years led the Women Intersport Network for Kansas City and in the past five has been the CEO of the KC-based National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.