Neil Hooper of the University of King’s College has been named Athletic Director of the Year by the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA).
Hooper received the award at the 2019 CCAA Hall of Fame Banquet in Calgary. He is the fourth Athletic Director from the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA) to receive the honour, which has been awarded annually since 2000.
Hooper is a genuinely humble and unassuming leader who is “in the business of making memories” for his student-athletes.
“Neil routinely does the little things that take a long time and you can’t measure or put on a spreadsheet to get credit for,” said Jamie McGinnis, Head Coach of the Blue Devils Men’s Soccer team. “It is his compassion and a big heart for his athletes, and loyalty to his coaches, that can only be measured by asking any player on a King’s team how they feel about him.”
This season was like no other in UKC’s 230-year history. It was a banner year for the Blue Devils and Hooper, who is one of only two full-time employees at the institution in athletics.
After claiming the ACAA Badminton championship crown for the second straight season, UKC earned its first ever national medal at the 2019 CCAA Badminton National Championships, hosted by Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Truro, NS, in March.
Hooper was of course in attendance and cheered Bryce Mason and Ben Van Ryn on to silver in Men’s Doubles.
“I am so glad he was able to witness his athletes make history and I hope he knows how large of a role he played in making that happen,” said Sam Lawther, a transfer student who has spent the last three seasons on the UKC Badminton team. “Our results this year are a testament to the work Neil has put into the King’s Athletics department.”
Three Blue Devils, including two-time CCAA All-Canadian Lawther, also qualified for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, which were held in Red Deer, AB.
Meanwhile, UKC had a record number 33 student-athletes achieve honour roll status at the institution this year. Three Blue Devils were also named CCAA Academic All-Canadians in April.
But the highlight of the season for UKC arguably occurred off the field and court. In February, an unprecedented donation, valued at more than $1 million, was gifted to the institution.
Fifty-six new $20,000 scholarships will support student-athletes beginning in 2019-20. Valued at $5,000 each per year ($20,000 per recipient), as many as 56 new students will hold a Debra Deane Little and Robert Little Academic Athletic Scholarships by 2022-23 and in subsequent years. And, for the next three years, the family has also agreed to offer 14 additional scholarships to current scholar-athletes.
The reason for the generous donation?
“These scholarships have materialized because of the gratitude of two parents for Neil Hooper,” said William Lahey, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of King’s College. “They have, with their generosity to King’s, spoken for generations of King’s students who have loved and admired Neil, as well as for the many other parents who share their appreciation for the positive influence Neil has had in the life of their student‐athlete.”
It's quite the present for Hooper, who in 2019-20 will be celebrating his 30th year of employment at UKC, a small institution with approximately 900 students, 140 student-athletes and eight varsity teams.
“Neil has spent time with each and every one of these student athletes, from recruiting them, to welcoming them, to making sure that they feel at home on campus and within their team,” said Trisha Miles, Athletics Coordinator at UKC. “He keeps track of their well-being – mentally, physically and academically.”
This, Miles believes, is the foundation for building strong teams and instilling excellence.
Hooper is also constantly supporting local not-for-profit groups in Halifax, NS, such as Ultimate Pick-Up (UP) Basketball which promotes informal basketball for young athletes from various neighborhoods playing together.
UP Basketball considers UKC’s gymnasium as its ‘home court’, as Hooper generously donates gym time to this positive initiative. He has formed a strong partnership with the founder of the organization and the program continues to grow.
Hooper has also worked with Nova Scotia’s Special Olympics youth 3-on-3 basketball team, which holds a special place in his heart. As the team prepared for upcoming games in Toronto, Hooper quickly offered the UKC gym at no cost to the athletes.
The long-time Athletic Director has served on countless ACAA and CCAA committees over the years. He has more than 10 years of experience on the ACAA Executive, including three separate terms as President. Hooper has served as an ACAA representative to the CCAA from 1994-2003, 2010-12 and 2017-19.
Hooper served as CCAA Men’s Basketball Convenor from 2001-03 and has served as ACAA Badminton and Men’s Basketball Convenor. Recently, he was Chair of the 2015 CCAA Badminton National Championships and Co-Chair of the 2017 CCAA Women’s Soccer National Championship.
“Neil always seems to choose the right words and apply the best guidance for any situation and the ACAA has regularly benefitted from his trustworthy and confidential approach to important issues,” said fellow ACAA Athletic Director and close friend David Munro, also the CCAA’s VP Programs.
“There are so many other things to admire about Neil including his sense of humour, his gift of treating everyone special and his unwavering passion for his student-athletes, the ACAA and CCAA.”