By Melinda Waldrop
10:18 PM EDT, July 20, 2011
Keshia Campbell missed the competition, and the connection.
Campbell, a former Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player and coach of the year at South Carolina State who was named Hampton University's first female athletic director on Wednesday, worked in athletic administration at HU from 2004-2006. She left the school to work for the NCAA, then moved away from athletics in 2009 to take a position as the director for business affairs and special projects at the University of Texas-Dallas.
"I've met some very good people here, good professionals," Campbell said in a phone interview. "It's a very progressive research institution. But I still had a longing to return to collegiate athletics. That's not out of my system at all."
It's not hard to see why. Campbell, inducted into the South Carolina State University Athletic Hall of Fame in October 2006, led S.C. State in scoring and rebounding to earn conference player of the year honors as a senior in 1991. She later spent seven years as head coach of her alma mater and was named the league coach of the year in 2001, when the Bulldogs improved eight spots to finish second in the MEAC.
Campbell, 42, first came to Hampton in July 2004. When she left in November 2006, she was associate director of athletics for administration under former HU AD Joe Taylor, overseeing various day-to-day operations of the athletic department.
"I am looking forward to rejoining the university," said Campbell, who thanked Hampton president William Harvey and Rodney Smith, HU vice president for administrative services, for having confidence in her. "I definitely enjoyed what I did at Hampton, working with all of our athletic programs."
Campbell said she was contacted by HU not long after Lonza Hardy Jr. resigned on July 7 and was on campus for an interview last week. The school said two finalists were interviewed for the athletic director position.
"(Campbell) has the administrative skills and experience to continue to guide our student-athletes to academic and athletic success," Harvey said in a release. "We believe her passion and vision will further elevate the bright future of Hampton University athletics."
Hardy, the Pirates' athletic director since 2007, left Hampton to take the same post at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
"I was really surprised by that. I was taken aback, but it definitely set my antennae up," Campbell said. "I definitely had some interest there." Though a thousand miles away in Texas, Campbell kept up with HU athletics.
"When the women's (basketball) team came here to play at a tournament at SMU (in the 2009-10 season), I was in the stands," Campbell said. "I've been attending the MEAC basketball tournament every year since I left Hampton. I've definitely kept up with that, and I try to attend football games when I can."
Campbell is, then, well-informed about the Pirates' recent success. Both the men's and women's basketball teams won the MEAC tournament championship and made NCAA tournament appearances this past season.
She's also aware of areas that need improvement, having read about HU losing 6.3 scholarships in football and 0.28 in men's indoor track in the NCAA's most recent Academic Progress Report.
"Hampton has a storied tradition of excellence in athletics," Campbell said. "Just being a part of that and helping that continue to grow is a really good opportunity for me. But I realize that we have some things, especially with our APR … we're definitely going to look to get those scores improved."
Campbell's official start date at Hampton is Aug. 15.
"Just being around the student-athletes and feeling more of a part of the actual competitions - that's the part I really miss," she said. "Of course Dallas is loaded with professional teams and high schools and colleges that have really good athletic programs, but there was not that connection."
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