Kennesaw State’s Tamica Smith Jones: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports

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Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx put the diverse journeys of black women through sport in the spotlight – from seasoned athletes to emerging stars, coaches, executives and more. Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.


Long before Dr. Tamica Smith Jones became a leader in college sports, she was a standout athlete with an alluring personality, literal stats, and a work ethic that left no stone unturned. But she’s the first to admit that her path to become chief operating officer of the sports department at Kennesaw State University was far from perfect.

As a college player, she did well athletically and academically, but as a minority student in the 1990s, she often ran into cultural norms on the Troy University campus. In her sophomore year, she dropped out of her full-ride scholarship at Division I school after a fellow student insulted her in a canteen fight. At that moment, Smith Jones hit the other student. In retrospect, she says she realized that the slap was reactionary and immature.

“But I didn’t give up because my grandmother reminded me that I was ‘falling the path’.” That doesn’t mean all is lost, she says. It was up to her to find a way to get back on track and get back to school.

Thanks to a former coach, a second chance soon followed. Smith Jones completed a trial at Alabama A&M University and performed excellently on and off the pitch at HBCU for two seasons before taking another step on the pulse that would cost her her scholarship. And this time she was only a semester away from graduation.

“It was like single-handedly destroying my own dreams one by one,” she says. The experience was so life changing that she described her strategy of staying in school and graduating on time in her book. A ball and a dream.

“The lesson is to understand that no matter where you’re from or what you’re up to, you can absolutely do it,” says Smith Jones. “You just have to figure out your next brave move.”

Finding out the next step is the Smith Jones superpower, and that has carried them through the good times – most of their career, marriage, and the birth of their children. But it was vital even in not-so-good times – divorce, unemployment, and rumors of questionable employment practices aimed at disrupting or discrediting minority leaders.

Her most recent move was to take on her position in the state of Kennesaw. “They actually created this opportunity during the pandemic,” says the COO. “Everything I do here is based on strategy.”

In her new role, Smith will oversee the day-to-day running of the Sports Department, overseeing strategic planning, policies, game operations, budgets, facilities and capital projects, and serving as the program administrator for both men’s and women’s basketball. All of these tasks are the result of her experience from a 20-year career as a trainer and administrator in university sports.

“It seems like a lot, but I have an education, have a rhythm and work from a real place where I love what I do,” she says, adding that she and her team of coaches and Administrators respond to each day with a student philosophy.

“Our mascot is the owl, so our student success team has developed a flight plan to ensure our student athletes receive day-to-day support to balance their academic, social and personal lives. It’s part of our offering as a comprehensive institution, ”says Smith Jones. “We make sure that they have access to tutors and learning specialists. We combine them with career development and leadership training. The coaches are responsible for their performance on the field or on the court, but they are also very well prepared when student athletes burn out and may need to speak to a sports psychologist or advisor. “

Smith Jones says she also has her own personal Commitment to Connect initiative to ensure her athletes enjoy a holistic college experience outside of the sport.

“That is very important to me,” she says. “I signed up to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. during my school days, and I have been able to participate in other student leadership programs. We’re really trying to encourage more quality of life activities outside of the four hours that the NCAA rules allow us to have with us every day. “

Because of her reputation, Smith Jones is ready to make a big difference at KSU. She broke new ground in her last position as Director of Sports at UC Riverside, where she became the first black woman to be hired as a full-time DI director in the state. Under her leadership, UC Riverside celebrated its most successful academic year in DI history, earning its top spot in the Big West Conference Commissioner’s Cup and fundraising goals in the university’s first major capital campaign, Living the Promise . She also campaigned for the university’s initiatives to address key issues affecting college athletes today, including advocating social justice and an increased focus on mental health and wellbeing.

Smith Jones’ presence in college athletics is felt off-campus as well. Most recently, she served on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Sports Committee and the Women’s Leaders on the College Sports Board and Foundation Sub-Committee. She is also a founding board member of the newly formed Black Athletics Directors Alliance and Chair of the Race and Social Justice Taskforce.

“I can multitask like it’s none of my business,” says Smith Jones. COO, university administration, coach, mentor, author, mother – her list of achievements is long. The question also arises: How does she manage all of this?

“Believe,” she says. “My life is like an illustration of hope. I grew up in a Christian home where faith and religion were very important. So, even though I’m a public figure and I’m very open-minded, I’m humble because I know I can’t do all of this on my own.

“After 20 years in this industry, I know a lot, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to a place where I know everything,” she continues. “I have this hashtag that I live by that says, ‘I am a person, not a position.’ And that means that I try to show up in all of my identities every day to help other people use their own abilities and do their best without compromising their core, values ​​or beliefs. “

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Madelyne Woods is a contributor for Strengthen onyx, a diverse, multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sport for black women and girls.

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