Jerry Hughes, who dedicated more than 40 years to laying the foundation for successes that included regional and national athletics championships, improved sports playing facilities, and the recruitment of thousands of outstanding student-athletes at the University of Central Missouri, passed away late Saturday, Jan. 21, after a brief illness. He was 73.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Hughes, who served as vice president for intercollegiate athletics, graduated from UCM in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, having lettered for Mules Golf during his undergraduate studies, and he received his master’s degree in secondary school administration in 1979. He joined the university that same year as a business placement director, and became assistant athletics director in July, 1981.

He was named athletics director in January, 1983, by UCM’s tenth president Warren Lovinger. This launched a tenure as head of athletics that lasted four decades and enabled him to garner numerous awards exemplifying his far-reaching impact on collegiate sports. Most recently this included the Division 2 Conference Commissioners Association (D2 CCA) Award of Merit, which he was scheduled to receive on May 18 at the organization’s annual convention in Asheville, North Carolina.

UCM President Roger Best said the university community is deeply saddened by the loss of Hughes. The longtime athletics leader developed a reputation for excellence and passion for his work that is well known throughout intercollegiate sports.

“Jerry was a friend and mentor to countless people, and his passing is a profound loss to the university and all of intercollegiate athletics,” Best said. “He dedicated his life’s work to his alma mater, and the UCM athletics program is among the top in Division II because of his leadership. We will be forever grateful for his contributions in making UCM a better place for us all.”

Thanks to Hughes’ leadership, UCM has some of the top facilities in NCAA Division II athletics, including the newest addition, the Roger Denker Wrestling Facility, which was dedicated on Jan. 14.  During his tenure, Hughes spearheaded a fundraising project that led to major renovations for Central Missouri’s Audrey J. Walton Stadium at Vernon Kennedy Field and James R. Crane Stadium at Robert N. Tompkins Field, as well as the development of the South Recreation Complex and new clubhouse at Keth Memorial Golf Course. In 2015, he oversaw the redesign of the university’s golf course and its transition to Mules National Golf Club.

Hughes’s dedication to quality athletic teams resulted in many forms of recognition for the Mules and Jennies. Under his leadership, Central Missouri won 179 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) championships entering the fall 2022 semester, 10 national championships, had 50 other top-four NCAA finishes, and made more than 300 NCAA postseason appearances.

The Central Missouri athletics program also won the MIAA All-Sports Trophy each year from 1998-99 (the year of the award's inception) until the award was discontinued in 2002-03 and took home the first two MIAA Commissioner's Cup following the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and again in 2019-20 and 2020-21. UCM finished second in the NACDA Directors' Cup in 2010-11, the best finish in university and MIAA history after finishing third the previous two years. In the 25-year history of the Directors' Cup, UCM has 14 Top 10 finishes and 22 Top 20 finishes.

Aside from his work at UCM, Hughes held multiple leadership positions for committees in Division II athletics. He served on the NCAA Executive Committee and as chairman of the Division II Championships Committee. He also served a term as NCAA vice president for Division II and has been a member of the NCAA Council, making him the only person to twice hold the highest-ranking office available to athletics administrators in NCAA Division II. Other NCAA committees on which he has served are the Membership Structure Committee, Administrative Committee, and Post-Season Football Subcommittee. He has chaired the NCAA Division II Management Council and Membership Growth Project Team and been a member of the NCAA Budget and Finance Committee and NCAA Administrative Review Panel, as well as the NACDA Directors' Cup Committee.

Hughes was the founder of the Las Vegas High Desert Classic, served as Regional Director of the Show-Me State Games, and member of the Governor's Council for Physical Fitness and Health. Jerry Hughes was named Central Region Athletics Director of the Year for the 1998-99, 2001-02, 2010-11 and 2015-16 seasons by NACDA. Hughes was also inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and named a Missouri Sports Legend, the highest honor bestowed by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. His most recent honor, the CCA Award of Merit is the highest honor presented by the D2 CCA and is reserved for individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the entire NCAA Division II membership and the Division II student-athlete experience.

MIAA Commissioner Mike Racy commented, "Jerry Hughes was a giant in the world of intercollegiate athletics.  He cared deeply about the success of Division II student-athletes and coaches, and his legacy of leadership in the NCAA, dating back to the 1980s, is in a class of its own.  Jerry was a great friend to me and my family, and I will miss him very much!"

Kathy Anderson, associate vice president of intercollegiate athletics and acting athletics director, stated about the loss of her longtime colleague, "On behalf of UCM coaches, staff and student-athletes, we offer our condolences and prayers to Vici (Hughes’ wife) and the entire family.  Jerry is UCM Athletics.  We have lost our guiding light, mentor and most importantly our friend.  We will strive every day to be the department Jerry wanted us to be."

More From Awesome 92.3