He started the athletic program at Clayton State University from scratch in 1989; now, 22 years later, Mason Barfield is leaving Laker athletics on its strongest ground.
Barfield made the announcement on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that he will be retiring this year as athletic director at Clayton State. The only athletic director in the history of athletics at Clayton State, Barfield’s last official day will be Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. He leaves behind a program that he started with one sport at the NAIA level in 1990, and developed it into a highly-competitive program at the NCAA Division II level, and a program that won its first national championship, in women’s basketball, this past March.
"Mason Barfield was first and foremost a university leader. While his more than two-decade focus was on athletics and student athletes and athletic programs, that focus was guided by his commitment to this University and its commitment to learning,” says Clayton State President Dr. Thomas J. “Tim” Hynes. “He followed the rules; he put student learning and student success first; he believed and proved, together with his coaches and staff, that a program could do those things, and succeed competitively. He is seen as a campus leader whose voice is to be respected and valued.
“For me personally, I have come to rely on his perspectives on this university and on athletics and on higher education. I will miss him a great deal.”
A native of Hahira, Ga., Barfield was hired as the athletic director and men’s head basketball coach at Clayton State in the fall of 1989 after serving one year as an instructor and men’s assistant basketball coach at Kennesaw State University, three years of teaching and serving as boy’s head basketball coach at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga., and three years of teaching and coaching at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga. Over the first five seasons as an NAIA program, he built the Laker men’s basketball program into a highly-competitive team in the Georgia Athletic Conference, winning consecutive regular season conference championships in 1994 and 1995, and winning more games than all but one four year intercollegiate program in the state over his last three seasons.
In addition, he also helped institute both women’s basketball (1991) and men’s soccer (1992) at Clayton State.
However, Barfield’s biggest challenge came in the winter of 1995 when the Clayton State administration announced the intention to move the athletic program to NCAA Division II status and join the Peach Belt Conference. To make that happen, Barfield oversaw the unprecedented move of starting up five new sports – women’s soccer, men’s golf, women’s tennis and men’s and women’s cross country – with competition in those five sports beginning in the fall of 1995, just six months after the announcement of the additions.
Dr. Richard A. Skinner, Clayton State’s president at that time, recalls the most important aspects to this dramatic expansion of Clayton State athletics.
“When I told Mason the time was right for us to move into NCAA Division II, I told him I would help him recruit student-athletes but only if I could say the following to them: you are a STUDENT-athlete, so graduate; we owe you and your teammates the chance to be competitive; you represent Clayton State University every time you put on a uniform, grab a golf club, or run any distance -- make us proud of you as a person,” he says.
Skinner also recalls Barfield’s response.
“Mason paused and took a deep breath and said, "we can do better than that." remembers Skinner. “He was right and the student-athletes did do better, much better than any of us could have imagined. And if Mason never made a basket, holed a putt, or did a header for a goal, he created an environment in which much was expected and more was delivered. Mason Barfield IS athletics at Clayton State and we shall not see his like again.”
In looking back on his 22 years at Clayton State, it’s not surprising to realize that Barfield’s sense of accomplishment still fits within the parameters of his 1994 conversation with Skinner. Noting that his first mandate was to start a men’s intercollegiate basketball team, and his second mandate was to create a competitive Division II program, Barfield says, “I fulfilled my obligation to the University, and have done so with a great sense of pride in that we did it the right way. We respected our responsibility to the academic integrity of our programs and student-athletes, and our athletes’ responsibility to represent Clayton State as good citizens has brought a great deal of positive recognition to this institution.”
After the first few years of transition into the Peach Belt Conference, Laker athletics began to take shape at the Division II level under Barfield’s leadership. Since 2000, Clayton State has won 14 Peach Belt Conference regular season championships and finished conference runner-up on 11 occasions. In addition, Laker teams have also won eight Peach Belt tournament titles and finished as tournament runner-up four times, establishing Clayton State as an elite power in the Peach Belt. The Lakers combined PBC Commissioner’s Cup points total since 2000 distinguishes the program as one of the top three most successful programs over that period of time.
At the national level, Clayton State teams have advanced to the NCAA Division II National Tournament 27 times since 2000, including three “Final Four,” six “Elite Eight” and fourteen “Sweet 16” appearances. The culmination of that success was last spring when the Laker women’s basketball team captured Clayton State’s first-ever NCAA Division II national championship, defeating Michigan Tech, 69-50, on Mar. 25, 2011, in the title game in St. Joseph’s, Mo..
“The one thing I would like to stress more than anything else is that this has been a team effort on behalf of everyone here at this institution. It’s been the most important ingredient to our success,” he says. “What we’ve accomplished here is directly related to the literally hundreds of people here at Clayton State, and in our community, who have supported what we have done over the past 22 years.
“I firmly believe this athletic program’s best days are still ahead, for it will continue to reflect the continued success of this great institution and the wonderful future that lies ahead for it.”
Barfield also points out that such wide-spread support was a necessity, given the challenging circumstances that accompanied the building of the athletic program.
"We created a NCAA Division II intercollegiate program at the same time the institution's mission was changed from that of a small, two-year community college in 1986, to a senior college unit offering four year degrees,” he points out. “Since we began putting our athletic program together in 1989, Clayton State has added more than 30 baccalaureate degree and eight graduate level degree programs while almost doubling its enrollment. Needless to say, there was a great demand for the institution’s resources to focus on accomplishing this tremendous academic endeavor. Therefore, since resources were stretched during these formative years, I utilized the resources available us in a way that prioritized substance over style, with an emphasis on attaining quality people to both fill our student-athlete rosters and lead our programs as coaches and staff. My philosophy of success has always put a higher value on people of substance who represent your program over the style of uniform or shoes that you wear."
“Mason Barfield is not only a superb athletics director, he is one of the finest people I have known,” says University of Wisconsin – Green Bay Chancellor Dr. Thomas K. Harden, president of Clayton State University from 2000 to 2009. “As president, I was always confident that in all his decisions and actions, Mason kept the interest of students foremost in his mind. Always honest and forthcoming, I knew I could trust him to make excellent decisions and lead the Lakers in ways that made me proud to be associated with the program. His mark of excellence is evident in all aspects of the athletic program at Clayton State, and he has positioned athletics for further success. He has worked tirelessly as a great ambassador for Clayton State. Those who know Mason also know that he is a dedicated family man. I am happy for him to reach the point in his professional life that he can now devote more time to his family.”
“After consultation with program staff and university leadership, we will identify an acting AD within the next 10 days,” says Hynes in regard to the University’s plans to move forward. “That individual will serve until a permanent director is named. We will then immediately begin the process of identifying a search committee to help recruit the next athletic director, whom we anticipate will be able to join us by June, 2012.”
Barfield’s future plans do indeed include “going home” to Hahira, a move that will allow him to pursue some personal obligations to family and to pursue some future professional opportunities. As for his time at Clayton State, as the only administrator at Clayton State to serve under all four presidents (and interim president Michael Vollmer), and the University’s senior administrator in terms of length of service, Barfield notes that all of the University’s leaders, beginning with founding president Dr. Harry S. Downs, have been men in the right place at the right time, and not just for the athletic program, but for the institution.
The same might be said for the athletic director. When he was hired by Downs in 1989, as a one-year college coach with no experience as an athletic director, Downs told him, “Mason, you’ve never done this before, but neither have we. So we’re going to learn how to do this together.”
And learn they did.