March 28, 2008
By Gary Brown
The NCAA News
When Dianthia Ford-Kee was weighing where to go to college, she was wooed by a coach who needed a shooter.
To this day, the former high school and collegiate basketball standout and current Shaw University associate AD is all that and more. She's a trouble-shooter, a shooter for lofty goals - and perhaps most importantly - a straight-shooter for the values of being a student-athlete.
"The day-to-day involvement with the student-athletes is what I appreciate most about athletics administration," Ford-Kee said. "I get an adrenaline rush watching a young person evolve and find their niche in life. It's a priceless feeling, especially with those who have gone on to careers in athletics. To know that they are successful administrators and teachers, and still heavily involved in athletics - it's an awesome feeling."
Ford-Kee is in her fourth year as an associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Shaw. She was appointed in May 2004 after successful 14-year tenure as Shaw's head softball and volleyball coach.
Not bad for a girl who joined a high school team that hadn't won a game - ever. That's how her athletics career began; shooting for a Lawrence High School whose team was, well, as Ford-Kee put it: "Horrible."
But she would change that. After three wins the first year and five the second, Ford-Kee led the squad to an appearance in the New Jersey state tournament in 1978, during which she scored her 1,000th career point.
"It was a very exciting moment in my life," she said, noting accolades that included even a resolution from the Lawrence Township board of education. She was recently notified that she will be inducted into the inaugural class of Lawrence High School's athletics hall of fame.
But she hadn't attracted much attention from colleges until - of all people - a rival player's mother shined the light on Ford-Kee during a visit to Fayetteville State. The coach there said, "You know, I just need a shooter - someone who can put the ball in the basket." The prospect's mom gave him Ford-Kee's number, and a phone call later, a college scholarship was born.
Ford-Kee played basketball for four years and softball for two at Fayetteville State, which transitioned from the NAIA to NCAA Division II her senior year. As good a shooter as she was on the court, Ford-Kee was no slouch in the classroom, either. She was the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's first female postgraduate scholarship recipient - a grant she used to earn a master's degree in public affairs at Northern Illinois, where she tutored under then-Assistant Women's AD Cary Groth (now the AD at Nevada).
Along the way, she married her late husband Jake Ford, who was a force in the collegiate coaching ranks at Voorhees, Fayetteville State and Hampton. Ford-Kee found jobs in the private sector for each of those stops, but when Jake was offered the associate head coach position at Shaw, the AD (who was looking to fill other coaching positions as well) asked him: "What does your wife do?"
Once the AD learned who Jake's wife was, he exclaimed, "Oh, I remember her. She was that standout basketball player at Fayetteville State who won all those accolades. Do you think she'd be interested in coaching here?"
Ford-Kee once again had to ponder. She and Jake had a 4-year-old and a newborn. In addition to being the associate head basketball coach, Jake also was the men's and women's cross country and track coach. Dianthia was being offered the head coaching position in softball and volleyball, and an assistant coaching position women's basketball - in addition to teaching. While all of that was a challenge, in typical shooter fashion she gave it a shot.
But there would be even more added to the plate. The NCAA had introduced the senior woman designation, and Shaw didn't have any other female coaches. You guessed it - Ford-Kee was the designee.
Ironically, that led to Ford-Kee's involvement with NCAA committee service - and an influence on the very role in which she was serving at Shaw. Hampton track coach and NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics member LaVerne Sweat got to know Ford-Kee and admired her "want-to-know-more" attitude and recommended that Ford-Kee succeed her when her term on the CWA expired.
Ford-Kee served on the CWA from 1992-98 and was instrumental in promoting the value of the senior woman administrator designation. "Some regarded the role as just the person who receives information on gender equity and NCAA scholarships for women, not someone who had a voice in athletics department decision-making," she said.
Obviously, the CWA was shooting for a higher purpose. Ten years later, Ford-Kee says CWA efforts have transformed the role from merely an information conduit to a leadership platform.
"SWA input is now valued at the executive level," she said. "My conference, for example, embraces the role of the senior woman administrator, and we have been involved with much of the change within the CIAA - so much so that it has attracted other conferences to want to know how we made it happen. Our ADs, too, are depending on us more to help with the day-to-day operations in athletics. Those are serious advances for the SWA role."
In addition to her CWA service, Ford-Kee also was a member of the Division II Management Council. A firm believer in the Division II strategic-positioning platform, Ford-Kee said an increased commitment to student-athlete opportunities is why she chooses Division II.
"Division II's identity campaign has helped us find our place in the NCAA," she said. "The attributes we identified help tell the story of what Division II is all about. That not only benefits us as a division, but the platform also benefits student-athletes. The community-engagement initiative, for example, has allowed student-athletes to engage in activities that prepare them as future leaders in athletics, in their institution's community and in their future careers."
She touted projects like Division II's degree-completion awards, leadership conference, the strategic alliance matching grant program (which in fact created her current position) and other programmatic developments that help direct student-athletes back into athletics, whether in coaching, administration, or simply mentoring in their community. She also credited programs from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) in that regard.
"It's so different than it was in 1990," she said. "Division II has progressed in such a manner that even my former athletes come back and say, ‘If we only had the opportunities available to us that are available to current student-athletes, imagine what we could be doing today.'
"I don't see myself working in an environment other than Division II athletics. I choose Division II!"
Spoken like a true straight-shooter.