There are several women in leadership positions in Southern States Athletic Conference athletics, both on the field and off.
Dalton State College's Kim Hays said she's honored just to be among them, but she'll also take the recognition as the SSAC's newly-named Woman of the Year.
"It means a lot to me to be selected," said Hays, an associate professor of biology at DSC who is also the faculty athletics representative for the school and eligibility chair for the conference.
"Most of the other women in our conference in our conference are coaches or athletic trainers," Hays said. "They have maybe a more direct involvement with the actual playing of the games, whereas I have a more administrative role. For that to be recognized and to be seen as a valuable role within the conference means a lot, because I don't come to athletics from a traditional background the way a coach, athletic trainer or athletic director might."
It's the second year the award has been given out by the SSAC's women's leadership committee.
"Our commissioner, Mike Hall, is really passionate about making sure that we have all different types of people represented in our conference, from women to minorities to people from a variety of backgrounds," Hays said.
Hays' role in athletics with the university has her assisting student athletes through the NAIA's eligibility rules.
"I'm the link between the athletics programs and the school," Hays said.
Hays heads the eligibility committee for the entire conference, helping the other athletic representatives at each of the other conference schools through the eligibility process, providing training annually.
In the last year, Hays' job has become a little more complicated.
After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down spring sports in the NAIA in 2020, the organization granted extra eligibility to affected athletes, further muddying the rules that Hays has to help guide others through.
"There have been a lot more conversations and a lot more education with our member schools, getting up to speed with how the different we call 'COVID exceptions' apply to different sports," Hays said. "Nobody's ever done it before, so it's been a stressful year. We've had to figure out how to treat students equitably and fairly and not penalize them for the effects of COVID, while at the same time continuing to move students toward graduation."
"On several occasions, she has gone above and beyond to assist an institution in crafting policies that support the ongoing eligibility process on that particular campus," Dalton State athletics director Jon Jaudon said. "She makes herself accessible to everyone at all times of the day and night. Just another example of how selfless she is to her leadership peers across the conference."
The award is not the first time Hays has received recognition for her efforts. She's a renowned educator too, winning the Regents’ Excellence in Teaching and Learning Felton Jenkins Jr. Hall of Fame Faculty Award earlier this year.