Longtime University of Central Missouri Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Jerry Hughes died Saturday, Jan. 21 after a brief illness, the school announced Monday, Jan 23.
Hughes, 73, reached his 40th anniversary in the position Jan 20. He had been employed by his alma mater since 1979.
"Jerry was a friend and mentor to countless people, and his passing is a profound loss to the university and all of intercollegiate athletics," UCM President Roger Best said in a news release. "He dedicated his life's work to his alma mater, and the UCM athletics program is among the top in Division II because of his leadership. We will be forever grateful for his contributions in making UCM a better place for us all.”
Hughes led the department through the evolution of intercollegiate athletics during his tenure, creating opportunities for student-athletes, coaches and fans alike.
Hughes’ impact can be defined in both figurative and literal measures. Perhaps the easiest perspective derives from the competitive success of each of the school’s athletic programs.
A little over a year into his leadership, both Mules and Jennies basketball captured national championships in 1984.
The two titles marked the first of many to come, joined by top finishes from Mules baseball in 1994 and 2003, Jennies bowling in 2003, Mules basketball in 2014, Jennies indoor track and field in 2015, Jennies outdoor track and field in 2015, Jennies soccer in 2017 and Jennies basketball in 2018.
UCM appeared in the NCAA Division II postseason over 300 times during Hughes’ tenure on top of the 10 national titles and 50 top-four NCAA finishes.
The Mules and Jennies won 179 conference championships at the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics level. The school topped the conference’s All-Sports Trophy each year between the award’s inception in 1998-99 to its conclusion in 2002-03.
A similar award in the MIAA Commissioner's Cup returned in the mid-2010s. UCM won the honor in 2016-17, 2017-18, 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The Mules and Jennies won the LEARFIELD Directors Cup in 2010-11. They finished in the top 30 of the standings for 16 consecutive years.
"Jerry Hughes was a giant in the world of intercollegiate athletics,” MIAA commissioner Mike Racy said in the release. “He cared deeply about the success of Division II student-athletes and coaches, and his legacy of leadership in the NCAA, dating back to the 1980s, is in a class of its own. Jerry was a great friend to me and my family, and I will miss him very much.”
UCM’s athletic success derives from Hughes’ dedication to bettering the student-athlete experience.
Projects spearheaded by Hughes included renovations for Mules football at Audrey J. Walton Stadium/Vernon Kennedy Field and Mules baseball at Crane Stadium/Tompkins Field.
Others include the development of Jennies soccer and Jennies softball’s home at the South Recreation Complex and the Audrey J. Walton Clubhouse at Pertle Springs.
Hughes also oversaw the complete redesign and renovation of the Keith Memorial Golf Course at the Mules National Golf Club, the home of Mules and Jennies golf.
Mules wrestling recently took its place in its new home, the Roger Denker Wrestling Facility, marking the latest completed project.
Through these facilities, and the investment in key coaches, success is almost naturally expected for the Mules and Jennies.
"On behalf of UCM coaches, staff and student-athletes, we offer our condolences and prayers to Vici (Hughes' wife) and the entire family,” Associate Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics and acting Athletics Director Kathy Anderson said in the release. “Jerry is UCM Athletics. We have lost our guiding light, mentor and most importantly our friend. We will strive every day to be the department Jerry wanted us to be."
Hughes was a UCM coach himself, compiling a 15-13 record as interim men’s basketball coach in 1991-92.
Along with working with coaches and UCM administrators to improve the student-athlete experience, Hughes did the same at a conference and national level.
Hughes was a member of the NCAA Executive Committee, chairman of the Division Division II Championships committee and a member of the NCAA Council.
He served as NCAA Vice President for NCAA Division II for one term and was involved in various committees throughout his tenure as AD.
Hughes’ impact led to several individual recognitions, including Central Region Athletics Director of the Year in 1998-99, 2001-02, 2010-11 and 2015-16. He is the only four-time winner at any NCAA level.
In 2022, Hughes received the D2CCA Award of Merit for his contributions to the entire NCAA Division II membership and the student-athlete experience.
Hughes was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and received legendary status in 2016.
Hughes was born Feb. 12, 1949, in Boonville to Jim Frank Hughes and Elanor (Smith) Hughes.
He grew up in Versailles and received a bachelor’s degree in physical education with a minor in safety education from Central Missouri in 1971.
Hughes was a three-year letterman for Mules golf, collecting All-MIAA honors in 1971.
He earned a master’s degree in secondary school administration from Central Missouri in 1979.
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Hughes served a year in the Army National Guard.
Before returning to Warrensburg, Hughes served as a physical education instructor, head golf coach and assistant basketball coach at Morgan County R-2 High School in Versailles. He was the school’s athletics director and assistant principal from 1977-79.
Hughes became Central Missouri’s business director in 1979. In 1980, he became director of student recruitment. Hughes entered the athletics world in 1981 in the new position of associate athletic director.
On Jan. 20, 1983, he was named Athletic Director by then-President Warren Lovinger.
Hughes is survived by his wife, Vici; his four children, Greg, Chad, Parker, and Ashley; and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Carol, who died after battling cancer.
A Celebration of Life for Hughes will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, inside the Elliott Student Union Ballroom.
Memorial contributions can be made to the UCM Alumni Foundation directed to Mule Train - General or Eleanor G. Hughes and Carol Dyetta Hughes Literacy Program.
Joe Andrews can be reached at 660-747-8123.