Tess Ehrhardt and Thomas Villamil honored for the second consecutive season
Organization exclusively for former Flames student-athletes and coaches
Duo challenged Horizon League staff Jonathan B. LeCrone, Alfreeda Goff and Julie Roe Lach
UIC Athletics closes busy year for donors and fans with successful golf outing
Softball leads the Flames with three recipients
Regarded as an engineer of championship programs, an advocate for academic success and a dynamic leader, Jim Schmidt enters his 20th year as the Athletic Director at UIC. The longest-tenured AD in the Horizon League, Schmidt's guidance has produced the most comprehensive run of athletic and academic success in school history. On June 12, 2013, Schmidt was awarded a five-year contract extension for his tireless efforts in making UIC one of the NCAA's top all-around athletic departments.
Named UIC's fourth Director of Athletics on December 11, 1996, Schmidt quickly put together a department that could excel on a championship level, not only within the Horizon League, but on regional and national scenes as well.
Under Schmidt's direction, UIC has advanced to NCAA postseason competition on 48 occasions while amassing a total of 76 conference championships. In 15 years of NCAA Division I status prior to Schmidt's tenure as athletic director, UIC earned nine NCAA postseason berths and accumulated 11 conference titles.
UIC won the James J. McCafferty Trophy, the award honoring the most successful all-around athletic program in the Horizon League each season, in 2000 and 2007 under Schmidt's watch.
The 2014-15 season will be a historic year for the Flames as UIC women's soccer will officially kick off its inaugural season as a Division I varsity sport. Schmidt announced the addition of women's soccer in November of 2012 with the hiring of head coach Brian Rigby. The inclusion of women's soccer gives the Flames 11 women's sports (20 in total), including all nine programs sponsored by the Horizon League. Oakland, Valparaiso and Youngstown State are the only three other schools in the League to sponsor all nine women's programs.
On April 17, 2014, UIC Athletics unveiled the new $10 million Curtis Granderson Stadium, a first-class baseball facility on the campus' southeast corner. Granderson, a UIC alum and three-time MLB All-Star, donated $5 million to the project, which is the largest one-time gift from a professional athlete back to their alma mater in history, according to Sports Illustrated.
"At UIC, we are committed to excellence, both academically and athletically," Schmidt said. "We will create an atmosphere that will assist each student in attaining lifelong experiences that will help them be successful."
In keeping with that commitment, UIC has continued to enhance the academic performance of its student-athletes under Schmidt. Over the past six semesters, UIC student-athletes have averaged a 3.0 cumulative grade-point-average with 27 individuals earning a perfect 4.0 during the 2014 spring semester alone. With Schmidt at the helm, the Flames boast a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 82 percent, which out-performs the national student body average of 59 percent.
Schmidt has laid the foundation for a bevy of Flames programs that are consistently in the mix for regional and national success. The first-ever NCAA bids for men's basketball, men's soccer, women's tennis and baseball have occurred since Schmidt took office, setting the stage for championship and postseason pedigrees. The men's soccer program has been ranked as high as fourth nationally and advanced to the 2007 NCAA Elite Eight; the baseball team has won 10 of the last 14 League regular-season championships and advanced to NCAA Regional play four times since 2003; and the women's tennis team has established itself as a dynasty by winning an unprecedented 16-consecutive League titles and making 14-straight NCAA tournament appearances through the 2013 season.
Under Schmidt's direction in 1994, UIC Athletics instituted a Life Skills program designed to enhance the total student-athlete, with activities designed to improve personal, social and career development. Team builders, community service projects and leadership opportunities through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) were also implemented.
Schmidt has also played a key role in the local and national exposure of UIC Athletics. He partnered with ESPN Radio 1000, one of the premier sports radio stations in America, to make WMVP-AM and ESPNChicago.com the exclusive radio broadcast homes of UIC men's basketball. He also helped expand radio coverage of UIC on WSCR, WGN, WBBM and other stations while increasing television exposure on the ESPN family of networks, Comcast SportsNet Chicago and other local and national outlets.
With a strong desire to win conference titles and earn regular appearances in NCAA postseason action, Schmidt has brought numerous conference championships to the UIC campus. For the first time ever, the Flames hosted the League's men's basketball championship in 1999 and 2000. UIC has also hosted conference tournaments in softball, baseball, soccer, cross country, gymnastics, women's basketball, and swimming & diving, while the school also welcomed the NCAA Softball Regional Championships to its field in 1999 and the NCAA Softball Super Regional Championships in 2005. An NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament first-round match was also played at Flames Field for the first time in the fall of 2006, and again in 2008.
UIC's administrative long-term plans are aggressive as well. In addition to major projects such as the first phase of the "Campaign for Athletics" that was implemented and the Flames Athletic Center fundraising campaign that was completed under Schmidt, UIC's overall strategic plan outlines detailed improvements for scholarship funding; renovations to facilities, including the UIC Pavilion, aquatics center; and improvements to indoor competition/practice facilities for baseball, softball, track, tennis and volleyball. Along with the aforementioned Curtis Granderson Stadium project, construction of the stadium portion of the softball complex and renovations to the soccer field are also high on the capital program's list of improvements. Additionally, new team locker rooms for all 20 sports will be installed before 2015.
Many of those projects are already underway, or have been completed. Lights have been installed at the baseball, softball and soccer facilities, and turf was installed as the playing surface at Les Miller Field, the current home of Flames baseball. Indoor practice areas for baseball, softball and women's golf have been added, while Flames Field, the home to UIC softball, and Les Miller Field are both operating with brand-new digital scoreboards.
While serving as associate athletic director (1987-97), Schmidt helped develop a broad-based athletic program headed by strong men's and women's basketball programs and rapidly improving, nationally-competitive Olympic sports teams. He also saw UIC's student-athletes gain national recognition for top academic achievements while the teams and coaches earned regional and national exposure through conference championships and NCAA postseason competition.
Schmidt assisted during the many historical decisions that took place over the last several years, including changes in conference affiliation leading up to UIC's current membership in the Horizon League. Schmidt recently finished up a term as chair of the NCAA Division I Championship/Sports Management Committee. He had previously served as the chair of the television, finance and men's basketball committees. Schmidt has also served on the championships/facilities committee, equity committee and executive council.
Schmidt began his collegiate athletics career in the fall of 1980, serving one year as the pitching coach at Western Illinois University while earning his master's degree in sports administration. Arriving at UIC in 1982, Schmidt served as a pitching coach on the Flames' baseball staff before being named an assistant to the athletic director in charge of marketing/promotions and daily operations.
From 1983-86, Schmidt handled all sports information duties as an assistant athletic director and assumed the title of associate athletic director in 1987. He served in that role for eight years before being promoted to interim athletic director on Sept. 1, 1995 upon the retirement of then-athletic director Tom Russo.
A 1981 graduate of sports management from WIU, Schmidt and his wife, Mary, reside in Naperville, Ill. They have two children, Bill and Eva.