Wicker-McCree among a handful of female leaders of athletic departments
It’s not just a flesh-pressing session when N.C. Central athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree starts her handshaking tour at Eagles games.
Wicker-McCree makes those rounds routinely, stopping to listen to spectators.
In fact, Wicker-McCree proclaims that she’s in the business of customer service, her body language saying that she’s not the type who forgets where she came from while her doctorate in higher education administration from N.C. State indicates that she knows where she’s going.
Wicker-McCree occupies a rare space in the world of sports as a female director of athletics. Her playground just so happens to be her own back yard.
“If I can retire (from) my career here at NCCU, that’s fine with me,” Wicker-McCree said.
Wicker-McCree, 46, became NCCU’s athletics director in May 2008.
In June 2012, NCCU’s board of trustees and former chancellor Charlie Nelms approved a three-year contract extension for Wicker-McCree, who signed it in May.
“I love it here,” Wicker-McCree said, speaking with the sort of exuberance that she tapped as one of the driving forces behind NCCU’s move to Division I athletics, which culminated in 2011 with the school rejoining the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
NCCU was a founding member of the MEAC in the early 1970s before leaving in 1979 to join the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association when the MEAC moved to Division I.
“I want to see us win a MEAC championship in every single sport,” Wicker-McCree said, briefly entertaining the idea of doing what she does on a higher level at another school. “You think about other places and what it would be like, but I think that the NCCU athletics program could be like any of those other places.
“So if I have the chance to make those kinds of institutional changes, then why do I need to go anywhere? It helps that my roots are here. I love Durham.”
Wicker-McCree played volleyball at Jordan High School, honing her talent on the next level at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., spending a season in the professional ranks in Puerto Rico.
In 1992, Wicker-McCree became N.C. A&T’s first full-time volleyball coach. She took over as the Eagles’ second head volleyball coach, then she started coaching the school’s softball team before climbing the ranks in athletics administration at NCCU.
All of that experience has her focusing on customer service, desiring to give NCCU fans great game-day experiences, whether that’s accessing tickets to actually getting in their seats at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium or O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
Of course, winning goes a long way toward making game days great.
NCCU’s football team is coming off of its first winning season since 2007, finishing 6-5, 5-3 MEAC in 2012.
Eagles basketball was 22-9, running through the MEAC with just one league loss during the regular season, falling to rival A&T in the conference tournament.
NCCU baseball coach Jim Koerner has turned a corner with his program, guiding the Eagles to a 27-29 season.
“I want us to be a choice athletics program,” Wicker-McCree said, desiring that recruits would see NCCU as a first option as opposed to a backup plan.
Solid recruiting would help shore up NCCU athletics, but there’s a price tag with that in the form of better facilities to attract student-athletes, Wicker-McCree said.
Eagles football coach Henry Frazier III has said that his program needs a fieldhouse, and NCCU athletes do not have a dedicated weightlifting facility, sharing equipment with students taking related classes.
This is the time of the year when the NCCU athletics department generates its financial windfall. Football is the school’s cash cow, making Frazier’s continued presence on the sideline a real coup, Wicker-McCree said.
Frazier was among six finalists to become the director of athletics at Prairie View A&M, where he used to coach. He didn’t get the job, keeping him in position to stay on track with his five-year plan for NCCU to win a MEAC title, Wicker-McCree said.
“There’s not a deadline,” Wicker-McCree said of championships in football or any other sport. “Sooner than later — that’s a deadline, if you can put a time limit on that. I think we’re close. People still have to keep in mind that it just does not happen overnight, and overnight is not one or two years but three, sometimes.”
Cuts in the state budget pose an added challenge to NCCU’s monetary situation, which, generally speaking, is lacking more than other MEAC schools, Wicker-McCree said.
“We’re kind of close to the bottom,” Wicker-McCree said, comparing NCCU’s finances with its peers. “There’s a relationship between funds and winning. If you look at a Norfolk State, their budget is five or six million more dollars than ours.”
NCCU’s athletics department annually brings in about $354,000, Wicker-McCree said. In-kind donations boost income to around $600,000, but non-cash gifts don’t pay for football helmets and baseball bats, she said. NCCU should be raising $1 million dollars a year, Wicker-McCree said.
Wicker-McCree praised Willie Jude, NCCU associate athletics director for development, and his team for their work toward building the school’s brand, but she said there are so many more relationships to establish and cultivate.
New NCCU chancellor Debra Saunders-White has challenged the school’s coaches to have their athletes ready to receive their diplomas in four years.
NCCU’s four-year graduation rate among its student-athletes is roughly 50 percent but needs to improve to 75 percent, something Wicker-McCree said will require money to pay for summer school.
“Dr. Wicker-McCree is one the finest athletic directors in the MEAC and the NCAA,” Saunders-White said. “Her experience at the start of her career as a championship-winning coach to now overseeing a significant athletics operation for a Division I institution is what makes her uniquely qualified to be a successful AD.”
Wicker-McCree said Nelms, the former chancellor, showed her how to cast a vision for NCCU athletics. She is looking forward to working under the feminine style of leadership that Saunders-White has brought to the school’s top post.
“I do believe women lead differently than men, in some respects,” Wicker-McCree said.
Saunders-White has a business background that will benefit NCCU athletics since Division I sports is a business, Wicker-McCree said.
“Dr. Wicker-McCree and I have several things in common as it relates to females in leadership roles,” Saunders-White said.