Thanks to a couple of tremendous strides that closed out the 2011-12 sports year, Shorter’s half-century affiliation with the NAIA ended on a high note.
The strong finish left those who represent Shorter with a sense of pride and helped the Hawks and Lady Hawks build momentum as Shorter prepares to join the NCAA Division II ranks.
“What a year it’s been,” said Shorter athletics director Bill Peterson. “I think that the coaches and the athletes wanted to do well knowing that this was their last year in the NAIA.”
Shorter’s last season in the NAIA concluded with the softball and men’s track teams winning national championships
“There are a lot of great things we’ll leave behind us,” Peterson added, “but the NCAA and the Gulf South Conference are great associations. It’s the right step for Shorter to take.”
There’s little doubt that huge steps were taken over the past several years, all leading up to the transition and all that helped make Shorter one of the best NAIA schools in the nation.
After finishing third in the 2011 Learfield Sports Directors Cup standings, which ranks schools based on their national finishes in each sport throughout the season, Shorter will claim the No. 2 spot this year when the final standings are released on June 13.
Shorter is second only to Azusa Pacific, which, like SU, is leaving the NAIA for the NCAA.
Highlighting the final run were five teams that earned points in the Directors Cup standings.
In addition to the softball team winning its first-ever NAIA national title and the Hawks running to a second straight outdoor track crown, the women’s golf team posted a fifth place national tourney finish, the women’s track team was sixth nationally and the women’s tennis team garnered a ninth-place national finish.
Those efforts came on the heels of an historic winter season that saw the Hawks and Lady Hawks basketball teams earn respective third- and ninth-place outings at their national tournaments and both track teams capture top-four finishes in the national indoor meets.
All told, Shorter had 13 teams earn the right to compete in national tournaments.
At the same time, the men and women who carried Shorter’s banner added to what is a long and lengthy list of national champions, All-Americans and Scholar-Athlete award winners.
Not to be forgotten are the team Champions of Character national awards that the Hawks and Lady Hawks have earned thanks to their commitment to the five core values of the initiative: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.
“In my mind, the NAIA was a perfect fit for Shorter,” said Peterson, who arrived at Shorter in 2004 as the football team’s recruiting coordinator and became Shorter’s A.D. in 2007. “When I came here, it was a perfect fit when we started our football program.
“It’s been amazing and it’s exciting to see where we’ve been and where we are now.”
The association between Shorter and the NAIA also developed into a close personal relationship, with Peterson mentioning the friendships made with the likes of NAIA President Jim Carr and Dennis Green, who coordinates the NAIA Football National Championship game.
The game has taken place in Rome for the last four years and will stay in Rome until 2015 with Shorter continuing to provide manpower and assistance to the Rome Host Committee.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have a close association with the NAIA,” said Peterson, “and fortunate to have people like (women’s basketball head coach) Vic Mitchell and (Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance) Richard Cowan establish close ties with so many people.”
The end of the Shorter-NAIA partnership also means the end of the school’s strong association as a member of the Southern States Athletic Conference that nearly all the Shorter teams compete in, save for football, wrestling and track.
“It is the best NAIA conference in the country, bar none,” Peterson said.
Peterson said Shorter’s athletic success in the NAIA and its growth as a program over the past decade is due to the support the department receives from every part of the SU community.
The list ranges from the admissions office to the administration, citing the backing from Board of Trustees Chair Emeritus Nelson Price and from former university president Harold Newman and his eventual successor Donald Dowless.
“When Dr. Dowless came in, he was committed to continuing what we believe is a program of excellence,” said Peterson.
Peterson said the key component to Shorter’s mission statement — Transforming Lives Through Christ — has and will always be the core of the Department of Athletics’ mission.
“That’s always been our No. 1 priority,” Peterson said. “We feel that’s the reason why the student-athletes are here and is something the Department of Athletics has been doing even before I got here and will continue to do as we move forward.”