NACWAA honors former athletic director


Molly Schons | The Chart

Former Athletic Director Sallie Beard is awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administration. She is recognized as the driving force at Missouri Southern that built the women’s athletic program from the ground up.

Former Missouri Southern athletic director Sallie Beard received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators on Oct. 13 in Louisville, Ky at the NACWAA National Convention. The award recognizes administrators whose professional careers advanced women’s athletics.

Beard’s 37-year career at Southern began in the middle of her senior year at the University when Dr. Leon Billingsly approached her about becoming a part of the athletic department faculty. Beard accepted and started as a professor of physical education after her graduation in 1972. That same year, Title IX passed, ensuring gender equality in all aspects of education, including athletics.

In 1974, Beard was appointed women’s athletic director. When a group of girls entered her office to seek help in starting a women’s basketball team, Beard said it was a natural response to help them because it was an opportunity she wished she had. In that year, Beard launched not only women’s basketball, but softball and tennis as well.

She said there were challenges at first, as the women’s basketball team had no specified gym time, forcing them to practice at 5:30 a.m. every day. The operating budget for the entire women’s athletic department that year was $2,000 which helped provide uniforms worn by all three sports teams.

Patty Vavra, Southern’s head coach of women’s track and field, has known Beard since her freshman year of high school. Vavra was recruited to play basketball for Beard at Southern and was part of the birth of the women’s track and field program in 1976-77, while she was a freshman on campus.

Vavra said that Beard’s leadership qualities made her a demanding coach in a way that was necessary for women’s athletics to be taken seriously.

“She was demanding at the same time that she was caring,” said Vavra. “She had such a love for Missouri Southern. That was probably at the heart of all her decisions.”

Beard’s influence eventually expanded to the national level when she served as conference president for the MIAA from 1999-2001; on the NCAA Division II Management Council; on the games committee for the NAIA Outdoor and Indoor Track & Field Championships; and as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Team at the World University Games in Romania.

Her involvement in athletics at national and international levels allowed her to be recognized as what Vavra deemed a “trailblazer” in women’s athletics.

In addition to her experiences abroad, Beard served as director for the entire athletic department at Southern from 2001 until her retirement in 2009.

“Those young women walking into my office set off a chain of events that I never anticipated, but thoroughly enjoyed,” said Beard, “because it provided a very stimulating and challenging career.”

Beard was honored and humbled to receive the award, and said it was one of those experiences she never saw coming.  She said the length of her career allowed her to be a part of major changes for athletics, both at Southern and nationally.

“I think the thing that sustained me for 37 years was watching men and women come in to the college environment, become involved in some kind of athletic experience on a team, and watching how they changed from that freshman year to when they graduate,” said Beard. “It’s very fulfilling.”