“NIRSA, as an association, has Black lives to thank for its very existence.” As I reflect on these words from NIRSA Executive Director Pam Watts, I am reminded of how proud I am to be a part of an organization that was built by Black founders. I think about NIRSA legends of the past—such as William Wasson, Horace Moody, and Paul Wilson—and how they shaped and molded opportunities for thousands of people spanning across generations. I think about our current NIRSA President, David Davenport, and the strong message he delivered about us standing together as an association this past week. David announced his theme for his presidential year as “relevance.” I know for many of my friends and colleagues within NIRSA, nothing has been more relevant in the development of us as professionals than our experiences with the NIRSA Championship Series. The NIRSA Championship Series’ brand promise is to provide participants with premier championship experiences delivered by qualified experts within a safe and inclusive environment. Still, I know we can do better. We still have much to learn, we still have ways to grow, we still have action to take.

If you have not had the chance, please take a moment to read the latest messages from Pam Watts and David Davenport in the NIRSA News article “In solidarity and action.” Pam provides an update with initial action plans and long term strategies. She has committed our Association to engaging in critical dialogue and spurring action. David’s impassioned message stresses resolute action from all of us as members in solidarity. The NIRSA Championship Series is listening. NIRSA HQ, the Series Executive Team, and the work team chairs are currently in the midst of our summer planning summit. Social justice, and specifically racial justice, is an important topic of conversation in our agenda, and we look forward to building and sharing actionable steps to help us stand together. The NIRSA Championship Series is built upon a foundation constructed by many committed volunteers, so please get involved. Share your input, your ideas, your resources, and your questions. Use the proposal form as one method to provide your thoughts. Reach out directly to me or other members of the executive team as another. However you choose to get involved, we can go far together as one.

Sports play such a pivotal role in the social justice conversation. Sports bring us together in a way no other walk of life does. They’re about teammates working together to achieve one ultimate goal, at all levels of play. They’re about fans watching and cheering their favorites teams and athletes, inspired by acts of athleticism, courage, and determination. Sports are the best drama because of the raw, genuine emotion they elicit. When our favorite athletes use their platforms and direct that emotion to improving the world, fans are engaged. Recent controversies regarding return to play in some professional leagues are no longer solely centered around the coronavirus, but are now also about the virus of racism which remains prevalent in our culture. Athletes are willing to put aside playing a sport they so richly love in order to keep the conversation focused on structural changes. This behavior sends a powerful message that has resonated with many people.

One of the things that I have always loved about the NIRSA Championship Series is the stories that friends and colleagues share about their experiences, even many years after the event has taken place. Those of us who have been involved with the Series have forged memories that are both personal and relatable. As I have the honor of serving this great association for the next year as Chair of the NIRSA Championship Series, I also think about my personal history and the number of Black men and women who have influenced my own growth as a professional. Their legacies have helped advance the Series in a number of impactful ways.

Inspiring individuals

Jerrod Jackson served as one of my former supervisors. He is one of my greatest professional mentors in the field. His “NIRSA Family Tree” of quality professionals who have worked with him over the years is impressive. Jerrod supported me receiving my first opportunity to serve on an official’s committee at a Series event.

Ashley Lax has been a rock and confidant for me as the Vice Chair of the Championship Seires. Ashley is an incredible leader who I am so proud to stand next to and experience this leadership opportunity with. She is confident, strong, and strategic, and her future burns bright in this field.

Oscee Wheatfall helped onboard me into my role as an executive team member in the NIRSA Championship Series two years ago. I have had the privilege of working alongside Oscee in a number of capacities over the years, including at the NIRSA School and at numerous Series events.

Jarrode Davis has served as the Flag Football Chair for my entire tenure as an executive team member, stretching out his volunteerism an extra year to align with the Flag Football Editorial Board despite numerous changes and opportunities at his home institution. Jarrode has served the Series in many ways over the years—as an official, host, director, volunteer, chair, and in countless other capacities.

There are countless others as well including Natosha Harris, Jason Gant, Dex Shorter, Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lewis, Jon Randle, Joe Wise, Sheldon Tate, and Matt Dunigan. I share memories, stories, and NIRSA Championship Series experiences with them all. I owe a personal piece of gratitude to each of them, as does the entire NIRSA Championship Series which is better because of the work that each has contributed over the years.

In closing

We know we have work ahead of us. I know we are up to challenge. Thank you for continuing to engage with us. I will echo the same message as President Davenport: “I welcome your thoughts on how we can stand together as an Association but more so, I welcome your actions on how we WILL stand together as an Association.”

Associate Director For Facility Operations at University of Florida | NIRSA Profile

Marty Dempsey, Chair of the NIRSA Championship Series, is currently the Associate Director For Facility Operations at the University of Florida.