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AECOM Center for Sports Administration names Tracy Ellis-Ward recipient of 2017 Distinguished Alumni award

Monday, January 30 2017 12:00am

Ellis-Ward (MSA ‘92) currently serves as the Associate Commissioner for Women’s Basketball at the BIG EAST Conference.

The AECOM Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University is proud to announce Tracy Ellis-Ward (MSA ‘92) as the 2017 recipient of the Charles R. Higgins Distinguished Alumni award.

“We are thrilled to name Tracy as our Distinguished Alumna this year,” said Jim Kahler, Executive Director of the AECOM Center for Sports Administration. “Since leaving OHIO, Tracy has positively impacted the sports industry as well as those around her. We feel she embodies what this award is all about, and has stayed connected to the program and its students and alumni.”

Ellis-Ward was named the BIG EAST Associate Commissioner in May 2015. In that role, she serves as the day-to-day administrator for women’s basketball, and is responsible for scheduling, in conjunction with FOX Sports, and management of the BIG EAST Women’s Basketball Tournament, as well as strategic direction and growth of the sport.  She is also currently a member of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Competition Committee and the WBCA Diversity & Inclusion Committee.  

“I was totally humbled and overwhelmed,” Ellis-Ward said. “It’s really special to have been a part of the program and to continue to be connected to OU. I think anybody who’s graduated from the program really knows how distinctive it is, and being a part of that family has been a tremendous blessing in my life over the years.”

Prior to joining the BIG EAST Conference, Ellis-Ward served as Senior Associate Athletics Director and Senior Women’s Administrator at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. At UMass-Lowell, Ellis-Ward had oversight of six sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, served as the Title IX Deputy, NCAA Institutional Performance Program liaison for Division I reclassification and provided management over all athletics department business functions.

Ellis-Ward has had an extensive career in athletics administration, including stops at Ohio University (1991-92), Michigan State (1993-2000) and the WNBA (2000-05), where she oversaw basketball operations and worked alongside current BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman.

Ellis-Ward’s career expands beyond roles perhaps considered traditional in the industry, and she has successfully applied her talents in academia and sports ministry. She served as Gonzaga University’s Unity Multicultural Education Center Director (2009-2013) and was appointed co-chair of the first Committee on Diversity, by the GU president. Prior to transitioning to higher education administration, she served as Vice President for Sports Leadership Ministries and Director of Women’s Basketball for NBC Camps, located in Spokane, Washington. 

Before relocating to the Pacific Northwest, Tracy served as the first full-time Area Director for New York City Fellowship of Christian Athletes – a national sports ministry.  In this capacity, she was responsible for fund development, marketing and promotion, as well as organizational strategic growth.  Preceding her career transition to full-time ministry, Ellis-Ward held an executive post at the National Basketball Association as Senior Director of WNBA Basketball Operations for five years where she was charged with oversight of rules development and enforcement, scheduling, officiating, budgeting and selective domestic and international events.  

After her shift into the professional ranks, she advanced in the collegiate realm at Michigan State.  She left a noteworthy mark as Assistant Athletics Director at MSU where she was promoted four times in less than seven years and was the youngest and only African-American female administrator in the department.

Ellis-Ward earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Art at the University of Missouri, where she was an All-American in women’s basketball and served as team captain.  She helped capture two consecutive conference titles during her playing career and still ranks 10th in Tiger history for point average per season (18.5) and seventh in field goal shooting percentage (.557).

Ellis-Ward was also part of an elite group of six interns for the NCAA prior to obtaining her Masters in Sports Administration from OHIO. She currently serves on the OHIO Department of Sports Administration Alumni Advisory Board and as an Executive Mentor to students.

“I believe it is important to give back, and always returning a call whether it’s a current student or someone from decades ago, that’s part of the program legacy,” Ellis-Ward said. “I think that is what makes the network so strong. Even if you weren’t in someone’s particular class, if you know they’re part of the family, that’s a phone call you return.”

Ellis-Ward is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Gonzaga in Leadership Studies. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Tracy is the mother of two children and was married to the late Michael J. Ward.

About the Charles R. Higgins Distinguished Alumni Award

The Charles R. Higgins Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually to a graduate of the Ohio University Sports Administration program that has positively impacted the sports industry and the lives of others around them.

The award was founded in 1982 after the graduate program had been in existence for 15 years. Because many program graduates were already making a significant mark in the sport industry at this time, the faculty and administrators wanted to recognize these achievements. The award was created to specifically recognize those graduates who were making a noteworthy contribution to the sport industry through professional achievement, as well as making a notable contribution back to the program. The first recipient of the award was Andy Dolich from the class of 1971.

The award not only recognizes a standout graduate, but it helps to showcase the Sports Administration graduate program, and demonstrate the caliber of the students. In addition, the award recognizes Dr. Charles Higgins, program director from 1977-1994 and current professor emeritus.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is officially presented to the honoree during Symposium weekend held each spring at OHIO. Along with a variety of events held for the alumni and current students of the MSA program, the weekend is closed out with a keynote speech by the distinguished alumni.