Lions’ Retreat: Community service, academics stressed

Many of Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s athletic coaches enjoyed a variety of table games with assisted living residents on Tuesday, marking the end of a two-day department-wide retreat.

Reaching out to people of all ages is just one of the coaches’ focuses as they enter a new school year.

“Our goal is to make sure that the local community knows we are their university just as they are our community,” athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr. said.

Topics ranging from academics to financial goals to ticketing were on the table during the retreat, signaling a transition from one busy school year to another for Hardy’s department. Almost 11 months into his job, Hardy is facing positive and negative challenges while going into the 2012-13 academic year with at least four new faces.

One of them, Alyse Wells-Kilbert, is UAPB’s new associate AD and senior woman administrator. The former Mississippi Valley State volleyball coach helped organize the retreat.

“The feedback was that several of them had never done this before,” said Wells-Kilbert, who started her duties full time July 1. “Coaches enjoy coming together as a staff, working together and then having that down time together.”

The retreat was held Monday and Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Monday ended with a bowling outing, and Tuesday closed with more fun for the coaches mixed with community service as they entertained residents of Whispering Knoll on South Hazel Street.

Athletic department personnel discussed goals and challenges they face during the retreat. One of the goals, being active in the community, is a constant for UAPB.

“Rarely was there a week we didn’t have a sports group or a coach doing something as far as going out to the elementary schools and reading to the kids, participating in church or other organizational community service events,” Hardy said. “I think we do a good job of that, but we’re trying to step it up, go out and reach more people.”

Then there are the department’s ambitions, one of which Wells-Kilbert named is starting an academic center for student-athletes.

“We’re in the first stages,” she said, adding the department has spoken with local clubs about the project. “We’re creating our vision.”

Strengthening the academic performance of all athletic teams has been a common theme for UAPB in recent months. UAPB scored higher than the NCAA benchmark of a 930 Academic Progress Rate in 12 of 17 sports, but only the men’s basketball team was penalized for its low score (885). UAPB is contesting the team’s one-year ban from the NCAA tournament.

“As requested by the NCAA, we are providing additional information,” Hardy said. “We see right now, whether we have a shot of getting it overturned or not, our goal is to make sure the program gets on solid ground academically in not only the men’s basketball programs but all of our programs.”

Hardy only described the additional information as ranging “from participation lists to other things.” The team’s head coach, George Ivory, blamed the low score on an incorrect roster submitted to the NCAA to figure the score.

Wells-Kilbert also is in the process of hiring a softball coach for the Lady Lions. She said applications are being reviewed and candidates will be brought to campus within next two weeks.

The new hire will join other new faces such as Wells-Kilbert’s husband Nate Kilbert, who was hired from Valley as head women’s basketball coach on May 4; Kyetta May, who was tabbed as volleyball coach just days earlier; and Rohan Naraine, named the women’s soccer coach in February.

“The reason they were hired is that they have impressive credentials and knowing the impressive credentials they come to the university with, our expectations are — and we don’t expect them to happen overnight — but, step-by-step, get our programs to the stature of the programs they came from, which were winning programs and programs that were competing admirably in the program,” Hardy said.