HAAC appoints first female commissioner

Story by Katie Thurbon

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The National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics is known for being a pioneer in collegiate athletics. Lori Thomas

The NAIA was the first collegiate athletics association to invite historically black institutions into membership, the first to sponsor both men’s and women’s national championships, and now with the appointment of Lori Thomas as the new commissioner of the Heart of America Athletics Conference, the HAAC will be the first conference within the NAIA to have a female commissioner in NAIA history.

“I think there are a lot of successful women in the NAIA and so I’m glad to be considered in their rank to be qualified to serve as a conference commissioner in the NAIA,” Thomas said. “But I feel that we probably should have had a female commissioner many years ago.”

Thomas, currently the senior vice president for membership and character initiatives at the NAIA national office in Kansas City, Mo., will take over as commissioner beginning July 1 as current commissioner Larry Lady steps down after 21 years in the position.

“We, of course, have mixed emotions about losing a dynamic leader on our staff and an experienced member of our team,” said Jim Carr, NAIA president and CEO, said in an interview with the Heart of America Conference. “But we are excited Lori will still be an integral part of the NAIA family. The HAAC is incredibly fortunate to have Lori Thomas lead the conference to continued success.”

After serving at the NAIA national office for 16 years, Thomas said she is now ready for a change.

“Ultimately, being a conference commissioner was in my career goals,” Thomas said. “Focusing on 12 institutions now instead of 254 is so exciting because I think the HAAC has a tremendous foundation but also a great opportunity to bring new initiatives based around student athletes.”

Baker University Director of Athletics Theresa Yetmar doesn’t think Thomas will have any trouble paving her own way in the conference.

“I think she’s an excellent choice because of her background,” Yetmar said. “She’s got the experience as a student athlete, then she was a coach and was able to see sports from that side and then she moved into administration, and now I think with all the experience she’s had she can bring it down to the conference level and have a really good understanding of how everything fits together and what needs to happen to move us forward.”