The UNC Charlotte 49ers men’s soccer team constructed a near-perfect season this year, starting unseeded and climbing as high as 9th nationally. It beat the University of Alabama at Birmingham; then Akron, the defending national champions; then the University of Connecticut. It continued to the 2011 College Cup, taking on the Tar Heels of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Despite the long drive, about 7,000 enthusiastic Charlotte 49ers fans, who call themselves Niner Nation, attended the NCAA College Cup in Hoover, Ala., near Birmingham. Although they lost the game narrowly, the 49er soccer players strode off the field to resounding cheers from the fans.
That exemplifies the character and class the Charlotte 49ers Athletic Department is building.
All in a Name
The Charlotte 49ers name stands for each of the sports teams of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte—16 in all—both men’s and women’s. Charlotte 49ers play basketball, soccer, golf, volleyball, baseball, softball, track and field, tennis—and soon, football. The sports programs took the name Charlotte 49ers instead of UNC Charlotte or UNCC to distinguish them from other state universities in North Carolina.
The Charlotte 49ers Athletic Department aims to create programs with integrity and honor as a basis, beginning with coaching leadership. According to Athletic Director Judy Rose, the department doesn’t wait for coaches to apply—it goes after the best coaches proactively. A primary focus is for attributes beyond just solid sports training.
“When you go through the hiring process, you look at the success of that person in that particular sport, as well as their ethics and their moral leadership. You want to know whether they graduate their kids,” says Rose.
Rose describes her job as finding the right coaches, and then providing them and their players with the resources necessary to be competitive and to develop the character and achievement to be successful. In addition to hiring and managing coaches, she develops and manages scholarships, facilities and upgrades, and conference memberships, as well as the funding for all activities.
Rose is reveling in the excitement of developing a new football program.
“It is a great challenge for me at this point in my career,” Rose says. “When you start a program from scratch, it is so different from adding one where you already have facilities. We had nothing in place to start football. That’s good and bad. It requires a lot more work, but in the same regard, it gives you the opportunity to build something from the ground up.”
Brad Lambert is the choice to lead the University’s new Charlotte football team. “I am thrilled with the coach and staff we’ve hired—we’ve gotten it right,” says Rose.
“Coach Lambert got this job for all of the right reasons. His letter that reached my desk was not a cookie-cutter letter; it got my attention. It talked about his work ethic—how he was raised on a farm in Kansas and how he focused on work ethic in his kids.
“He is a perfect fit for the start-up program,” Rose adds. “He wants good kids in this program, not just athletes, and he promotes that to families. I’m thrilled with that leadership.”
The Charlotte 49ers will play on McColl-Richardson Field in honor of the generous donations of Hugh McColl and Jerry Richardson. The field is scheduled for completion in August 2012. The game schedule begins in August of 2013.
All Around Successes
The 49ers men’s basketball team recently beat Davidson in the annual Hornet’s Nest Trophy rivalry. The 84-61 victory included four three-point shots within five minutes by Charlotte senior Javarris Barnett. Charlotte remains undefeated against Davidson on its home court, Halton Arena.
Basketball is Charlotte’s primary sport, thanks to its ability to raise substantial funds. Rose says that Coach Allen Major is bringing in the right kind of kids, focused on both academics and athletics. “You make choices in how you want to recruit and spend your time. We want kids that are disciplined enough to know when to go to class and focus on their work,” Rose says.
The program competes in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Rose says it’s a fitting affiliation. Since joining in 2005, the 49ers have earned three bids to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and aspire to be selected regularly.
The track program has been dominant in the A10. All-America sprinter Darius Law won the Arthur Ashe National Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. He was runner-up for a $20,000 postgraduate scholarship.
The 49ers women’s basketball team last year won 27 games and the baseball team went to the NCAA tournament . Women’s soccer suffered a little this year with 10 newcomers on the squad, but Rose expects it to improve with seasoning. The Charlotte golf program has also been nationally ranked and has been in the NCAA tournament for the last 6 years.
The Charlotte 49ers Athletic Department is building a new tennis facility, with dedication scheduled for April.
The Charlotte 49ers athletic program strives for academic development and athletic performance, focusing on both grades and academic progress rate. Coaches like Allen Major believe that it is equally important for students become good fathers and husbands, to respect women, and be respectful to other people, Rose maintains.
All the coaches take the commitment to student development seriously. “The best thing we can give our students is an education,” says Rose.
Getting a Shot
“I’m a basketball person,” Rose says. “I played and coached college basketball. That’s the sport that really is my favorite.”
The Blacksburg, S.C., native attended Winthrop University and coached women’s basketball while in graduate school at the University of Tennessee.
“It was an absolutely phenomenal experience for me,” she says.
Although she clearly demonstrated early success in sports, she credits good timing for her quick ascendancy to athletic director. Title IX, part of a federal law which requires all state-funded college athletics departments to provide equal access to sports for men and women, passed in 1972. But by the time Rose graduated in 1975, only two colleges had actually implemented it.
“A lot of attention was focused on Title IX because people were not complying,” explains Rose. “Some forceful mandates came down that scared the folks on college campuses about losing federal funding. They were all starting women’s basketball programs and they needed somebody who had a master’s degree because you also had to teach.
“Pat Summitt, Sylvia Hatchell, we were all in graduate school together at Tennessee. Every female in our graduating class was getting job offers,” remembers Rose. “We were all hired as basketball coaches and had other duties as well, teaching. I was offered three jobs that year and I took the women’s basketball coaching job right here. But we would not have been hired directly out of graduate school to college jobs had it not been for Title IX.
“I want people to be educated about Title IX not just because of what it did for women’s athletics, but if people read it and study it, they will see we have more female doctors and lawyers because of it. At that time they weren’t admitting too many females to law school and med school, either. It opened up doors that really gave an opportunity to break that glass ceiling for a lot of women across the country today.”
Eventually, Rose worked her way up to associate athletic director at UNC Charlotte. Jeff Mullins was both basketball coach and athletic director at the time, and when he was told he would have to choose one or the other, he recommended that Rose be promoted to take his place as athletic director.
Says Rose, “There were no female mentors for me when I was named. I was only the third woman ever to head a collegiate athletics department—to be an AD at a divisional school. That almost scares me looking back.”
Asked about her passion for the position, she says, “There are no highs in administration like when that kid makes the free throw and your team wins it,” she says. “The highs for me are when we have $5 million to build this building—knowing how it is going to change the direction of our basketball program and change our look nationally is thrilling.”
Rose is grateful for former Chancellor Jim Woodward’s mentorship. “Title IX got me here to begin with, and gave me the opportunity to coach women’s basketball. But it was the University’s progressive outlook that led to the opportunity to be the athletic director here in 1990.”
Rose tries to be at as many of the sports contests as she can. She wants the student athletes and the coaches to know that what they are doing is important enough for her to be there. She is also involved in numerous organizations, including NCAA committees. She is a former member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and currently chairs the Division I Championships and Sport Management Cabinet.
Finding Its Place
UNC Charlotte has worked hard to find its place in the collegiate conferences, lobbying hard to become a member of Atlantic 10 in all sports except football. For football, says Rose, “We are an independent right now. We are hopeful that down the road we will have a conference affiliation. But for the first two years we do have our schedule in place.”
Rose acknowledges it will be expensive to get into a major football conference. The 49ers are starting in the Football Championship Division (FCS), which allows 63 player scholarships. But the 49ers aspire to compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) where 85 scholarships is the norm. When the 49ers move up, they will have to fund that scholarship differential. Further, the coaches’ salaries and the travel are at a higher rate. All that will take more resources.
The stadium under construction on campus will seat approximately 15,300, and the minimum for the Football Bowl Division is 15,000. The FBS is where the 49ers ultimately want to be.
Charlotte has a lucrative television market and is a major city with easy access by air travel. “We have a lot going for us in that regard. This is a good sports city, professionally,” Rose says. “We are thrilled with the naming of the football field, with Mr. McColl and Mr. Richardson’s names associated with our programs.”
Student fees help with funding as well, plus Rose says there are still opportunities for people to contribute funds to make the right conference possible. The athletics department continues to sell 49er seat licenses and naming rights remain available for both the stadium and the field house.
The 49ers also hold an annual luncheon fundraiser every year for young women in athletics called “Let Me Play.” It raised $100,000 this year. Executive women and women in the community attend to support women’s sports. “They want their daughters and granddaughters to be able to play,” says Rose. “It’s a pretty phenomenal thing.”
For men and women, athletes and scholars, the Charlotte 49ers Athletics Department is building character, community, and stellar sports programs—brick by brick.