It wasn’t the summer Athletic Director Curtis Janz was anticipating.
“It was a difficult summer,” Janz said just after the 2018-2019 year began. “I put in a lot of 14 hour days, but at this time in the summer, I am super excited.”
Janz’ summer took an unexpected detour when both men’s basketball coach Josh Newman and women’s basketball coach Elena Lovato stepped down from their posts, Newman to take over as head coach at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Lovato returned to Division I Mississippi State as an assistant coach.
Janz said he went out to find the best people he could for the positions – and ended up with two UAFS alumni and former basketball players.
Justin Bailey, head coach for the basketball Lions, is a Fort Smith native, Northside graduate, and former UAFS player and coach. In addition to his playing and coaching experience, Bailey has a master’s degree in higher education.
Bailey said he is proud to have a chance to lead the Lions after the team made its fourth national tournament appearance in five seasons and set a school record for single-season wins last year.
“I am happy and excited to be a part of this team’s experience,” he said.
Asked about his goals for the team, Bailey said he tells players academics come before athletics, but that he still has an eye to winning. Although the roster lost a lot of students to graduation, he said he still hopes to win the conference tournament and return to the NCAA Division II tournament this year.
Pocola native Tari Cummings takes over the Lady Lions. Cummings played basketball at Westark from 1997-1999, and she was an assistant coach under longtime head coach Louis Wharton for four seasons.
Most recently she was an assistant coach at Division I Tulsa.
Cummings said she called all the members of the team the night before her appointment was announced.
“I wanted them to hear it from me and not the media,” she said. “I’m big on relationships, and I want to get to know every one of them.”
She said she plans to set the bar high for the team, but players “are going to know I’m hard but I’m fair.”
Like Bailey, she emphasizes the student in student-athlete.
“Someday, the ball is going to stop bouncing, and you’re going to need something to fall back on. So you’re here to get your education by way of basketball.”
Janz said the department’s culture got stronger over the summer.
“These two will represent not just UAFS, UAFS athletics, or UAFS basketball – they will represent Fort Smith and the River Valley extremely well,” he said.
In addition to nabbing two first-tier head basketball coaches this summer, UAFS added several other new faces to the athletic program.
Mason Rhodes,’18, coach, men’s and women’s cross country
Sha’hada Artberry, strength and conditioning coach
Gary Preston Jr., assistant coach, volleyball
Macy Ayulo, ’16, assistant coach, volleyball
Aaron Proctor, assistant coach, men’s basketball
KaeLynn Boyd, assistant coach, women’s basketball
Haleigh Lankster, assistant coach, women’s basketball
Duston Green, assistant coach, men’s basketball
Shawn Joy, assistant coach and pitching coach, baseball