By Tom Kirch, retired Director of Recreational Sports at Oregon State University and Nazifa Islam
The NIRSA Honor Award Committee is thrilled to announce that Michael “Mick” Deluca has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 NIRSA Honor Award! The NIRSA Honor Award—the Association’s most prestigious honor—is awarded annually in celebration of a NIRSA member who has provided exemplary service to the Association and made incredible achievements in the field of collegiate recreation over the course of their career. With these criteria in mind, it’s clear that Mick Deluca is a fantastic choice to receive this year’s NIRSA Honor Award!
Mick has been a NIRSA member for almost thirty-five years, and has served on all three boards of the Association: the NIRSA Board of Directors, the NIRSA Foundation Board of Directors, and the NIRSA Services Corporation Board of Directors. Mick has also been involved with numerous NIRSA committees and events as well as non-Association entities. Some of those include—but are not at all limited to—the NIRSA Governance Transition Team, Annual Conference Host, State Director, the NIRSA Membership Committee, the NIRSA Development Committee, the National Kidney Foundation – United States Transplant Athletic Games, Special Olympics, the UC Council of Recreation Directors, and the Pac 12 Recreation Consortium.
Mick continuously demonstrates his commitment to the Association and the profession; he embodies the idea that service is an important part of being a collegiate recreation professional. “Don’t make it about you,” he says. “The work, whether at a university or within NIRSA, is about service to others.”
From Laramie to Los Angeles
Mick has been involved in sports his whole life, but he was first introduced to the underlying principles of collegiate recreation in high school where among various jobs he was a camp counselor and a youth baseball coach. In college, he was exposed to the profession through his field of study, playing college baseball, and his job at the student union. He completed a recreation internship at Colorado Mesa University under Rick McNeil, now Director at Michigan State University, and Rick took him to his first NIRSA event the Big 8 and Friends – Rocky Mountain Conference in Boulder, Colorado. He believes that all of these experiences helped root in him the importance of being active, forming relationships with people, building community, and supporting others. NIRSA is rooted in these same ideas so it should come as no surprise that Mick eventually became a leader both within the Association and the field.
Mick is currently the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Campus Life at UCLA. After completing graduate school, he started his career at the University of Wyoming where he was both a physical education instructor and the Coordinator of Intramural Sports. In 1982, he returned to the University of Denver where he had been 2014 NIRSA Honor Award recipient Mark Fletcher’s very first graduate assistant. Mark was one of Mick’s mentors and actually took Mick to his first NIRSA Annual Conference in Philadelphia in 1981. After seven years at DU—where he held numerous positions, before eventually becoming the Director of Campus Recreation and the Assistant Director of Athletics—Mick started work at UCLA, rising through the ranks from Associate Director to Director to Executive Director to his current position within Student Affairs. His NIRSA colleagues have nothing but admiration for the work he’s done over the years.
No matter the workplace, Mick is responsible for “significant growth in the profession and has had a strong impact on recreational sports,” says Director of Campus Recreation at Oakland University Greg Jordan. “He supports student development at all levels.” Suzette Smith, Director at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, believes that “Mick’s leadership helped to develop a department at UCLA that many schools today model their programs after.” And Jan Gong—retired from the University of California, Davis; a past NIRSA Honor Award winner and NIRSA President; and one of Mick’s mentors—adds that “Since its inception, UCLA Recreation has been founded on the fundamental principle that recreation includes all aspects of sport, leisure, cultural pursuit, and wellness. Mick has built on that strong tradition, remaining committed to its philosophic premise while simultaneously recognizing the needs of both a present and future-tense environment.”
A heavy lifter and a visionary leader
Mick has been a recognized leader in the field for many years now. The NIRSA Honor Award is only the latest in a long line of accolades; he’s received too many awards to name them all. But, among the many are NIRSA Regional Awards of Merit in both Regions V and VI, four NIRSA Annual Service Awards, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Colorado Mesa University, the UCLA Excellence in Leadership Award, and the National Kidney Foundation Distinguished Service Award. Darcy Bingham, who is on the Board of Trustees at the University of California, San Diego and recipient of the inaugural NIRSA Foundation Leadership Award, put it best when she said that Mick is someone you can “count on to get things done. He knows all about heavy lifting.”
This is no doubt in large part due to how Mick approaches his work. “I strongly believe that you have one life and that you have to bring your whole self to all aspects always,” says Mick. While “some people try to separate their work life, their personal/family life, and their NIRSA life,” he’s realized he needs to do just the opposite. “All things intersect,” he explains, “and the more you allow them to intersect, the more you can be genuine, let others in, and really begin to role model your own values in all aspects of your life.” For years now, Mick has been modeling his values through his work for the Association and profession.
Kathleen Hatch—retired from Washington State University and a past NIRSA President—says, “It’s hard to even begin to summarize the substantive contributions Mick has made” to the Association. He “served as President at a time of unprecedented change—and given his tenacity, energy, and talent, everything became a new opportunity to seize and advance the collective impacts” of various NIRSA bodies. Kathleen sums up her feelings with the following: “To say I’m in awe of his impact would be an understatement.” Mick’s service as NIRSA President from 2012–2013 is obviously highly lauded. Only one example of his extraordinary capabilities as a leader is his organization of the 2013 NIRSA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. That conference was co-located with the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), which “required strong leadership to create success,” explains Jacqueline Hamilton, Director at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. “Mick navigated the relationship with ACPA in a very diplomatic way” and this ultimately “elevated NIRSA’s presence among CHEMA organizations.”
Mick also served the Association a Co-Chair of the NIRSA Governance Transition Team from 2009–2010. This team, recalls Darcy Bingham, “led to the complete transformation of how we operate as an association.” Dave Koch, Recreation Director at the University of California, San Diego, puts it this way: there’s little doubt that this transition was “truly one of the most impactful changes in the Association since its inception.” John Meyer, retired from the University of Colorado Boulder; Kathleen Hatch; Michael Waldron, Associate Director at Texas A&M University; and Kristy Caldwell, Associate Director of the Department of Campus Recreation at Texas State University, also all only have praise for Mick’s work on this particular leadership body. These five members—who share between them nearly 170 years of NIRSA membership—cannot stress enough how crucial the Governance Transition Team was to the Association’s future and just how crucial Mick was to the team.
All-around team player
The NIRSA Foundation also owes Mick a debt of gratitude. Dave Koch remembers that while serving as Chair of the NIRSA Foundation from 1994–1996, Mick “established the groundwork for the Foundation to accomplish the success it has achieved over the years.” Suzette Smith, who currently serves on the Foundation Board of Directors, particularly appreciates that Mick’s “commitment to the NIRSA Foundation is unwavering. He is always willing to make a difference and has always committed to participating in Foundation events. He leads by example.” Mick also leads by taking initiative and turning ideas into realities.
One such idea has become a central part of the Foundation’s annual fundraising efforts: the NIRSA Foundation Golf Tournament. “Mick was one of the founding members of the Foundation Golf Tournament,” explains Dave. “The established goals were to have a fun, social event to kick-off the Annual Conference and to raise funds to support the Foundation. Costs were to be kept reasonable, especially for student members. These initial goals have remained intact for the past 21 years.” The tournament has raised thousands of dollars since its inception in support of the NIRSA Foundation’s mission.
Mick served on the Board of Directors for the NIRSA Services Corporation—the third Association entity and the one housing the NIRSA Championship Series—from 2003–2009, acting as President from 2005–2007. “The NSC was struggling with identity until Mick served,” explains Greg Jordan. “His voice, expertise, and leadership helped mold that organization into one with purpose and meaning.” This only makes sense when considering that Jan Gong says, “He is always the one to go further than is comfortable or conventional; the one to push us to consider a new world of possibilities.”
John Meyer adds that “Mick helped the Association understand the concept of sport as a core value of NIRSA and an important part of our mission. Through his leadership, the NSC and the Championship Series have used sport as the vehicle to promote student learning.” It’s thanks to Mick, says John, that the Championship Series has been “on a path of financial stability and a model of opportunity for the development of students and staff alike.” Kathleen Hatch also makes a point of crediting Mick with “envisioning and articulating a new value in our NIRSA sports portfolio for sponsorship and entrepreneurial activity.” The same vision that helped UCLA enter into a campus-wide contract with Coca-Cola in 2013 helped the NIRSA Services Corporation find its footing. The NSC and the NIRSA Championship Series wouldn’t be as rich without the benefit of Mick’s influence.
NIRSA blue through and through
For Mick, NIRSA is “truly a family of colleagues and friends.” He says, “My entire adult and professional life has included NIRSA as a foundation. Many deep friendships and relationships have developed. Through a career you share many stories and memories and life occurrences, while at the same time there’s a constant stream of new people and new relationships. NIRSA is an on-demand network that is a call or email away. You have a connection in every college town in the country. NIRSA for me is the intersection of values that has instilled the ‘Pay It Forward’ approach to giving back, developing others, and serving people.”
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with Mick in many different capacities over my years with the Association,” says NIRSA Executive Director Pam Watts. “We’d worked together on the NSC Board of Directors and on the NIRSA Governance Transition Team, among other committees; but I will always be grateful to have my first full year as Executive Director for NIRSA coincide with his term as the NIRSA President,” says Pam. “As NIRSA transitioned into a new governance model,” she explains, “Mick was the perfect partner to bring both vision and perspective to new governance and a new model for leadership. His steady leadership style and steadfast belief that NIRSA has no limits pushed us to new frontiers of partnerships, better aligned the organization’s leadership, and deepened our commitment to campus recreation’s core values.”
Community pillar and devoted family man
Given the breadth of his work within the Association, it’s hard to believe that Mick has been just as active in his service work outside of it. But that is the reality. “Beyond NIRSA, Mick has served our members in a variety of capacities that have influenced our members and students in ways many do not realize,” explains Laurie Braden, Director of University Recreation at Louisiana State University.
He has served on over 50 UCLA committees; acted as Sports Director for the United States Transplant Athletic Games; served on the National Games Committee for the National Kidney Foundation; was a key UCLA representative for the Los Angeles 2015 Special Olympics World Games, and the upcoming LA2024 Olympic bid, and plays an active role with the UC Council of Recreation Directors, Pac 12 Recreation Consortium, the Green Sports Alliance, Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (NASPA), and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). “The opportunity to share time and talent with others in support of these causes that use the power of community, sport, or participation to celebrate the message of active, healthy, inclusive, and sustainable lifestyles has become a valuable medium to me,” explains Mick.
Apart from these volunteer opportunities, Mick “has also been very active in youth sports in his community,” says Laurie. He has been “a coach or manager or official in soccer, softball, and basketball with service on the Community Sports Board, the Girls Softball Association Board, and the City Youth Basketball Board. This type of service while not for NIRSA certainly propels the work of NIRSA and is impactful in ways that many of us cannot directly measure.” Mick makes a point of saying that an important intersecting outlet for him as he watched his children grow up “was to be involved in their school programs and activities—from attending school open houses to class projects to attending performances to coaching and managing teams through youth to high school sports to serving on community sports boards.”
Dedication to service and a commitment to collegiate recreation must run in the family since Mick’s daughter Staci Snyder—Membership and Sales Coordinator at the University of California, Irvine—has followed him into a career in the field. While she grew up around collegiate recreation, it remained “‘dad’s job’” to her for quite some time. In college, though, he convinced her to work at the new recreation center on campus, and “it wasn’t long,” she says, “before I realized why my dad loved this profession, and that I would soon be known not as ‘Staci,” but as ‘Mick’s daughter.’” She says that “this profession quickly became something new we can share and something new I can learn from him. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, I will never tire of being referred to as ‘Mick’s daughter.’” Staci adds, “I’m excited to be a part of this association at a time when my dad is getting recognized and honored. I always knew it wasn’t a matter of if he received this award, but when.”
A lasting legacy
What stands out above even Mick’s dedication to service and the profession is his warm personality and incredible integrity; his mentors, colleagues, and mentees cannot say enough about the wonderful man behind the unmistakable mustache. Kristy Caldwell says that his “infectious positivity and smile, willingness to help others, and forward thinking hasn’t changed in over 25 years.” She adds, “Reflecting back, I’m not even sure that mustache has changed either.” For John Meyer, Mick “is best defined by his ethical and moral character. His integrity and honor are surpassed only by his conscientiousness and respect for others.”
Greg Jordan says, “Mick is just an outstanding human being. His ability to speak with meaning is rare. He is never condescending to anyone. He takes time to get to know students, young professionals, and all others.” Kevin Marbury, Director of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Oregon, adds, “I consider Mick to be amongst my closest confidants and dearest friends within the profession. He is extremely intelligent yet humble. Passionate yet practical. He is a man of integrity who is grounded with a love for his family. His dedication and contribution to the profession are unmatched.”
Since he was a sophomore at the University of Denver thirty-four years ago, Thomas Morrison, Vice President of Capital Planning at Indiana University, has known Mick; back then, Mick was the newly-appointed Director of Recreational Sports. Tom says, “Mick cares about people. To me, there is no finer compliment of another human being. He cares about the students he serves and employs, the staff he leads, the faculty who are fellow teachers, and the professionals always in search of advancement. Even in serving those big populations or groups, he has the ability to see everyone as an individual, sometimes in need of a little guidance—like me as a 19-year-old sophomore.”
Celebrate your 2016 NIRSA Honor Award recipient
NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation exists as it does today thanks in large part to Mick Deluca. His stewardship of all three Association entities over the years has resulted in a stronger NIRSA. The impact of Mick’s hard work and dedication on an association he values deeply cannot be overstated.
Darcy Bingham says simply, “We’re lucky to have him on the NIRSA team,” while Michael Waldron adds that Mick “provides a brilliant illustration of what leadership and vision are all about. His commitment to excellence and NIRSA has made a tremendous difference in our profession.” There is no doubt that Jacqueline Hamilton is right when she says “the Honor Award would be a wonderful way to recognize Mick’s impactful service.”
Please join your colleagues in congratulating Mick at the 2016 Honor Award Banquet, the closing gala event of the 2016 NIRSA Annual Conference & Recreational Sports Expo taking place in Kissimmee, FL from April 3–6. Registered attendees can reserve their seats/tables in advance.
Tom Kirch retired in 2014 as the Recreational Sports Director at Oregon State University. He received the NIRSA Honor Award in 2013 and is the current Chair of the Honor Award Committee.
If you have questions, please contact the Honor Award Committee member Chair Tom Kirch or NIRSA Headquarters Liaison to the Honor Award Committee Alice Kersting.