Delta State University Athletic Director and Director of Aquatics Ronnie Mayers announced one of the toughest decisions of his career Monday.
Mayers, who has been the official AD at DSU since 2013 and has been employed at the school for over 40 years, said he will retire on Dec. 31.
The 66-year-old Natchez native just felt it was time to step down and spend more time with his family.
“After you’ve been here as long as I have you just can’t work forever even though you want to,” Mayers said with a laugh. “I won’t be going far. I’ve got no plans to leave town. Cleveland is my home and I love the folks here at Delta State and love the folks here at Cleveland. It’s been a great opportunity for me to be involved all these years with the program. I just figured it would be better to go ahead and let everybody know a few months in advance. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
Mayers, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1974 and master’s degree in 1975 in Health, Physical Education and Recreation at DSU, has been a full-time employee at the school since 1976 when he first took the job as an instructor in the HPER department. He first came to DSU as a student in 1970 when he was a student-athlete on the track team as a pole-vaulter.
Mayers made a huge impact on the school and the community in swimming. He started the Delta Aquatic Club age-group swim program in 1974.
“The one reason I stayed here at Delta State was starting Delta Aquatic Club back in 1974,” Mayers said. “When I graduated my senior year in college, I started the age group program. I just enjoyed coaching swimming and got to know the people in town and their children and now I know those children’s children. That’s kind of how I got started. My first contract was a one-year contract. Mike Jones was the aquatic director at the time, and he left and went to Texas and was going to come back. I got a one-year contract that turned into 43 now. It’s almost like I’ve lived two or three lifetimes.”
Ten years later, he started up the DSU men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams in 1984 with the DSU teams competing for the first time in 1985. He coached the Delta Aquatic Club from 1974-89 and coached the DSU men’s and women’s swim teams from 1984-2005.
In his time as DSU swim coach, he guided the men to six New South Intercollegiate Swim Conference Titles (1998, 1999, 2001-04) and the women to five NSISC Championships (1993, 1997, 1999 and 2001-02). All total, he coached 56 All-Americans, 21 Academic All-Americans and 113 conference champions. DSU teams made 15 NCAA Division II National Championship appearances and had one swimmer pick up a national title as Justin Whitaker won the 100-yard backstroke in the 2002 Division II Swimming and Diving National Championships.
Among all the accomplishments as swim coach, he spearheaded a campaign that produced the 6.2 million dollar facility known as the Delta State University Aquatic Center, which was opened on Jan. 10, 2001. The DSU swimming program is the only collegiate swimming program in the state.
“Few people if any have had a such a contribution not just to the university but to our swim-dive program,” Delta State University President Bill LaForge said. “The community program he started and the great team history and legacy that our swim-dive teams enjoy today are all on his shoulders. He’s been an amazing part of that aspect of the campus and athletics generally and certainly in the swim program, and he keeps his hand in that. He clearly has a huge legacy there. He was instrumental in bringing the aquatic center to Delta State and worked with the legislature and with Dr. (Kent) Wyatt in the 1990s to bring that wonderful facility to this campus. His legacy is long lasting in that area.”
After Mayers stepped down from coaching the swim team in 2005, he was named the Assistant Director of Athletics for Special Projects and the Director of Aquatics. In 2007, he served as interim athletic director after then AD, Dr. Brad Teague, stepped down to take the AD job at Central Arkansas.
Mayers, after serving a second term as interim AD for seven months after previous AD Jeremy McClain resigned to take a position at the University of Southern Miss, became the full-time athletic director on May 24, 2013.
In Mayers’ time as AD at DSU, there have been upgrades to athletic facilities all over the campus. In his time at DSU, artificial turf was added to the field at Parker Field-McCool Stadium to go with additional upgrades to the facility.
He also played a key role in the fundraising campaign that enabled DSU to build a stadium at Dave “Boo” Ferriss Field. The lead gift was a $525,000 donation from Tim Harvey and his wife Nancy and the stadium was ready in time for the 2016 season.
Mayers and his staff also helped with upgrades to University Field as well as built expanded locker-rooms for Statesmen and Lady Statesmen soccer. In Mayers’ time repairs were made to the south wall at the Walter Sillers Coliseum.
One of the most recent upgrades that happened on Mayers’ watch was the construction of Statesman Boulevard. Statesman Boulevard is expected to be ready for the upcoming school year.
There have been several key hires that have been beneficial to sports at Delta State University under Mayers’ watch. Sports at DSU have remained competitive with those hires.
“When you’re the athletic director, you’re in charge of all the sports,” Mayers said. “I’ve tried my best to look out for every one of the sports. It’s so neat because as athletic director you get to know all the different student-athletes from all these sports. That was so much fun to get to know these kids and see them compete and do well over the years.”
Mayers added that his experience coaching the swim program served him well as athletic director.
“I think a very good characteristic for an athletic director is to have been a coach,” Mayers said. “You kind of understand what the coaches are going through. You understand the relationships they make when they’re out there trying to recruit kids to go to the university and what it’s like to win and lose and what it’s like when you’re kids to great in their sport and in the classroom.”
LaForge said Mayers had a great working relationship with the coaches.
“He earned and deserved the trust and respect of his coaching staff and the other administrators that work with and for him there,” LaForge said. “He’s fair and he listens well. He works really hard to make sure that each of our recognized athletic programs gets the attention, financial support and all the other aspects of the athletic world that we really want them to have. He’s been a great advocate for our sports programs.”
Mayers has no regret about his time at DSU.
“It’s bitter-sweet,” Mayers said about retirement. “It’s nice to know that you put in your time and nice to know you can actually retire if you want to. Some people say if you love what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life. I can truly say that I’ve loved working at Delta State all these years.”
Mayers added that he was thankful to everyone that mentored him and the people he worked with.
LaForge said he plans to put together a search committee and start the official search for the new AD in August.
“I would like to have everybody back, faculty and staff so that we can look at this when school starts,” LaForge said. “I will appoint a committee, and it will be chaired by someone well versed in athletics for Delta State who knows the culture here well, and we will do an extensive search to find his successor.”