February 12, 1949—January 21, 2023

“Everybody knows the percentages about how many go to the pros. But the main thing is to try to get them to see what is possible.” - Jerry Hughes.

These days, there is nothing small about so-called small college athletics, and Jerry Hughes – the longtime athletic director of the University of Central Missouri – has been among its champions.

Just walk across the Warrensburg campus. A $6 million fundraising effort has led to the football team’s new locker room, strength and conditioning center and theater-like film room. Several million dollars, most from Houston Astros owner and UCM alum Jim Crane, went to baseball stadium upgrades in the past 20 years. If you venture to the golf course, $2 million went to the new clubhouse and $4 million toward course renovations.

And that’s just to name a few projects which illustrate Hughes’ tireless fundraising work since becoming AD in January 1983. But they also speak to what many see across the state, that Central Missouri athletics is Jerry Hughes.

Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to honor Hughes as the next Missouri Sports Legend. A specially commissioned bust of Hughes, cast in bronze, is on display on the Legends Walkway, home to Missouri sports greats such as Stan Musial, Norm Stewart, George Brett and Len Dawson.

In essence, Hughes created a winning atmosphere through hiring coaches, and guided student-athletes and then broadened his reach through major leadership roles in NCAA Division II. However, he never forgot the college’s mission.

“The key thing is, I try to tell (student-athletes) that we want them to graduate,” Hughes said. “Everybody knows the percentages about how many go to the pros. But the main thing is to try to get them to see what is possible.”

Hughes showed what is possible at Central Missouri. He’s been on campus for 40 of the past 48 years. He was a three-year golf letterman (1969-1971) and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. He readied for the AD role by spending much of the 1970s in teaching, coaching and AD roles at Morgan County High School.

Hughes was 33 when promoted to Central Missouri AD and, under his leadership, UCM’s athletics program has won eight national titles: men’s basketball (1984, 2014), women’s basketball (1984), baseball (1994, 2003), women’s bowling (2003) and dual women’s Indoor & Outdoor track and field titles in 2015.

Entering the 2015 fall semester – and in Hughes’ tenure – UCM also had won 151 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championships, had 45 other top four NCAA finishes and made more than 260 NCAA postseason appearances. Central Missouri also has a dozen Top 10 finishes in Learfield Directors Cup Competition, awarded annually to the nation’s best overall collegiate athletics program.

It’s no wonder that three basketball coaches (Jim Wooldridge, Bob Sundvold, Kim Anderson), three baseball coaches (Dave van Horn, Brad Hill, Darin Hendrickson) and football coach Willie Fritz either went directly to NCAA D-I head coaching opportunities or secured them within four years of leaving campus.

“I’m very organized. I’m very detail-oriented, and I want things done right,” said Hughes, a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee in 2005. “But once you hire someone, I give them all the tools to be successful and get out of the way. I’ve been a coach, so I understand how a coach thinks. Say your football coach has a budget issue. I’m not going to walk in the Friday before the game and talk about it.”

Hughes has been a Division II member of the NCAA Executive Committee and chairman of the D-II Championships Committee. He also served a term as NCAA Vice President for Division II and has been a member of the NCAA Council, making him the only person to twice hold the highest-ranking office available to athletic administrators in D-II. He also became the first three-time winner of the Central Region Athletic Director of the Year award at any NCAA level.

Among the causes he championed were D-II teams holding on-campus, in-season tryouts with recruits and D-II playoff berths based on regional rankings.

More so, he’s been a statesman for Central Missouri, securing money for sports facility upgrades.

“The key thing is, I’ve had a lot of very good donors over the years. The key is to get them to trust you. They have to know you are going to use the money the way you say you are using the money,” Hughes said. “I just don’t walk out with a million-dollar deal.”

Warrensburg has been a great home for Hughes. He and his bride, Vicki, have raised sons Greg, Chad, Parker and daughter Ashley in the Johnson County community. It was at UCM where Hughes met his first wife, Carol, who passed away after battling cancer.

“I had the opportunity to take some jobs at other places over the years,” Hughes said. “But I didn’t consider any of them to be as good as what’s right here at Central Missouri.”

Hughes has been honored by the MSHOF twice, once by induction in 2005 and again as a Legend in 2016.