JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Belhaven University announced Monday that the NCAA Division III Membership Committee has approved the University for full, active NCAA membership beginning this fall with the 2019-20 academic year.
Full NCAA membership provides the Blazers' seventeen sports programs immediate eligibility for both American Southwest Conference (ASC) and NCAA postseason championships, full NCAA member voting privileges and access to all NCAA opportunities, awards and recognition.
University President Dr. Roger Parrott noted, "NCAA Division III is the gold standard for well- rounded college athletics – with its' commitment to putting first a high-quality student-athlete experience. I'm proud the stature and integrity of our programs have equipped us to be enthusiastically welcomed into this highly competitive division of college sports. I could not be more proud of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics leadership."
In 2013, the Belhaven University Board of Trustees approved an NCAA membership process which began with an 2014-15 exploratory year, the final year of NAIA national affiliation for the Blazers. This was followed by the NCAA-mandated four year provisional membership process, during which time NCAA regulations did not allow for NCAA postseason qualification and competition.
In 2015, the American Southwest Conference graciously welcomed Belhaven University as a conference member. The Blazers' sports programs began scheduled competition as an ASC member although unable to participate in ASC team championships due to NCAA provisional membership rules regarding automatic qualifier (AQ) postseason bids. During these interim years Belhaven participated in numerous National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) championship events.
Beginning in 2017-18, the ASC invited Belhaven student-athletes in individual sports to compete in ASC Championships. Three student-athletes earned ASC Champion honors in Outdoor Track & Field in 2018 (JaLeea Bonnell, Women's 100m Hurdles; Aliah McPhaul, Women's Shot Put; Dagan Nations, Men's Hammer Throw), followed by two more ASC Champions in 2019 (Ben Adams, Men's Javelin Throw; Carron Prude, Men's Hammer Throw).
"From the start, our aim was to find a home where our student-athletes had the best opportunities to compete for championships and to mature as people created in the image of God", said Scott Little, Vice President & Director of Athletics. "So many people have worked tirelessly for nearly six years to achieve NCAA membership. I salute our student-athletes for their perseverance, especially those who earned their degrees without ever experiencing the opportunity of the ASC and NCAA postseason. I am also thankful for our coaches, administrators, faculty, staff and alumni – those who have served and supported our student-athletes with great skill and care. The support and wisdom of Dr. Parrott and our Board of Trustees have been invaluable as we have walked this road together."
Susanna Reese, senior Women's Basketball Student-Athlete and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Vice President remarked, "I am excited for the opportunity to finally be eligible for the postseason and I am ready to push myself and my teammates for the chance to get there!"
Head Softball Coach Kevin Griffin noted, "Full NCAA membership now gives our program instant credibility. We had a great run in the NAIA and NCCAA, but now we can focus on competing for NCAA championships and that is exciting for our coaches and players!"
Men's Basketball Head Coach Jonathan Vines said, "As we enter into full NCAA membership, I am forever grateful for the selfless young men who chose to play here during the provisional years. They established a culture of excellence both on the court and in the classroom that will serve them well for years to come. Moving forward, we couldn't be more excited that our players will now be able to experience the thrill of vying for seeding in the conference tournament in February, and hopefully an NCAA tournament run in March."
Head Football Coach Blaine McCorkle expressed, "It is very exciting to finally be a full member of the NCAA and the ASC. Our Athletics Director Scott Little and our entire administration has worked tirelessly to make this a reality and it makes all our jobs as coaches easier and we can't thank them enough. We now have something to compete for without an asterisk. It is now easier to give future Blazers definitive answers as to who we are without explanation. I know I speak for all the coaches at Belhaven when I say what a relief it is to have this process behind us and now we can solely focus as a department on the things that truly matter such as growing our department, ministering to our athletes and competing for legitimate championships."
Head Women's Soccer Coach Kimberly Harrell sent these remarks while attending the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, "Gaining full NCAA membership is such an exciting time for our Women's Soccer Program. We are thrilled to be able to compete in postseason play, as well as for a National Championship. our Student-Athletes and coaching staff have been waiting fr this moment and will embrace this opportunity with maximum efforts."
Beth Vansant, Associate Director of Athletics for Compliance and Administration stated, “It is an honor to be part of this exciting time for the Belhaven Blazers. NCAA Division III membership provides so many opportunities for our student-athletes in and out of the classroom. I look forward to supporting them in realizing their potential and competing at the highest levels that DIII provides.”