For Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes, commissioner of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, the GCAC Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Championship is a sort of homecoming.
As a star athlete at Minden High from 1990-93, Barnes often competed in meets at Lee Hedges Stadium (then known as Caddo Parish Stadium), site of the GCAC meet Friday and Saturday.
Many members of her extended family reside in Princeton, Haughton and Minden. Her parents, Bobby and Linda Baker, live in Minden. Both were longtime teachers at Caddo Parish schools.
Of course, family isn’t the reason Barnes is coming to Shreveport. The GCAC Championship meet is.
She and her staff have been working closely with Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission Director of Sports Sara Armond and the commission staff for weeks preparing for the event.
“Sara and the team, let me just say, they are amazing and I honestly feel like they have everything done,” Barnes said last week. “I think we’re now at the last stage of this and it’s kind of promotion time. We want people to come out.
“It’s real nostalgic, but what I want to see happen is I really want to see the community embrace this and I want it to be an impact on the community in terms of students. You know we’ve seen an uptick in mental health, depression and things like that in young kids now. Sport has always been a way to help students move and to find sometimes purpose and to exercise.
“We want students to have the opportunity to connect with our schools but to also see student-athletes who are competing in college and that could be their life. Even if they didn’t compete they may want to be an athletic trainer, or maybe they want to be an umpire or a coach or maybe they want to be a journalist.”
HBCU Admission Fair
The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, is headquartered in New Orleans, which is home for Barnes now.
It is comprised of eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities — Dillard University (New Orleans), Fisk University (Nashville, Tenn.), Oakwood University (Huntsville, Ala.), Philander Smith College (Little Rock, Ark.), Rust College (Holly Springs, Miss.), Southern University at New Orleans, Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, Miss.) and Wiley College (Marshall, Texas).
One thing Barnes is excited about is the HBCU Admission Fair that will be held in conjunction with the meet. It will feature all GCAC schools, including the University of the Virgin Islands, which is officially joining the conference July 1.
The fair runs from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s an opportunity for high school students,” she said. “If they haven’t selected a college we want them to have an opportunity to be exposed to our member institutions. And so admissions counselors are also going to be on site both days at the track event to talk to potential students. I’m really, really, really excited about that.”
Award-winning career in athletics
Barnes has been the commissioner since early 2022 after serving as interim commissioner for three years. She is the first black woman commissioner in the history of the GCAC and the NAIA.
While she was interim commissioner, she still served as director of athletics at Dillard University, a position she held for 16 years. She also was the head women’s basketball coach from the time she was hired in 2006 until 2013.
During her tenure she received numerous accolades. In 2022, she was included in Sports Illustrated and Empire Onyx’s “Elle-vate 100 Influential Black Women in Sports” series.
In 2021, she was named Nell Jackson Executive of the Year by Women Leaders in College Sports. In 2019, she was named a National Association of College Directors of Athletics Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year.
She is also a three-time GCAC Athletic Director of the Year.
Star high school athlete
Barnes was a star basketball player at Minden, leading her teams to appearances in the 1992 and 1993 Class 4A state championship games.
She was also a state champion in the high jump.
After two years playing basketball at the junior college level, she went on to star at the University of New Orleans from 1995-1997.
Athletics has been a huge part of Barnes’ life since the fifth grade. But that wasn’t her first career goal. She wanted to be on TV in an Oprah Winfrey-type role. However, upon graduation from UNO she didn’t think she was ready to pursue that path.
“I hadn’t done enough internships and I didn’t feel like I was qualified honestly or ready to even pursue that career when I graduated from college, but everybody said once you graduate you’re supposed to know what you want to do,” she said. “I just didn’t feel like I was ready to do anything.”
After Barnes graduated, she received a call from Gay Nix that would set her on her career path.
Nix, who led Byrd to two Class 5A state championships, was named the head coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1996.
“Gay recruited me at UNO, but in my senior year she left and took the head coaching job at UL Lafayette,” Barnes said. “Well, Gay reached out to me maybe a week or two after I had graduated UNO and said, hey, I wanted to see what you were thinking about.
“I have a graduate assistantship available and I’d like you to come and be a member of our team and be a graduate assistant coach and we’ll pay for your Master’s degree in communications.
“I felt like now that I was getting ready to go to grad school I could finally focus on this TV stuff, right? So it was like I know sports because I’ve done that literally for like the last 12 years of my life I’ve played basketball. So yeah, being a coach, I’ve worked at camps, I’ve worked with kids and young people so I think I could be a coach, right? So it was her reaching out to me and offering me the opportunity that really started my career.”
Beginning her career
Barnes’ first head coaching job was at Southern University-Shreveport.
In 2006, she was named women’s head basketball coach and athletic director at Dillard.
Of course at that time New Orleans was reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. When she took over Dillard only had three sports so she had to re-build the program almost from scratch.
Under her watch Dillard added three sports teams.
She also rebranded the athletics department, began the livestreaming of events and led fundraising efforts that brought in more than a $1 million to the athletic department.
As GCAC commissioner she has expanded the conference’s reach and footprint.
Trailblazer and role model
Because of her status as the first black woman commissioner of the GCAC, Barnes has been called a trailblazer.
Last year, she told Rod Walker of the New Orleans Advocate it was never her intention to be one. But she embraces being a role model.
“Honestly, I didn’t have any black women coaches except for my assistant coach in high school was a black lady,” she said. “But all of my coaches were mostly white men and all the athletic directors were mostly white men. There were no women doing anything honestly.
“Gay was a head women’s coach so she hired me, but there were only a few women head coaches. So I mean when I thought about it I didn’t even see myself in any of those roles because I didn’t see people who looked like me doing those roles.
“So now I’m on the other side and I was like, oh, I think I might want to be a head coach now that I see it I can do that and I got my opportunity at Southern University in Shreveport in 2000. And then it was like, well, I think I would want to be an athletic director too.”
Focus on students
Of course, Barnes wants to keep the focus on not just student-athletes but all students and young people as a whole.
In 2018, she started a program called “So you want a career in athletics?”
She said the goal of the program is to “find young ladies who were students in high school playing sports and say, hey, do you know you can be a writer for sports? Hey, did you know you could manage an athletic program?, and make sure that they were aware that the opportunity exists.
“And of course if they so desired to pursue a career of an athletic director then I have a coalition, like I’ve got women all over the country that they can connect with and give them a mentor that can help them explore that.
“And so I have had an amazing career in sports even though it wasn’t what I desired to do and I have been so happy about it. And I just want other young girls to actually have the opportunity to know and to be able to be connected to mentors because mentors have been very, very critical to my own personal career development.”
Barnes is also President and CEO of Kiki Baker Barnes, LLC, which aims to help other university athletic departments improve and grow their brands.
She is the author of a book titled Disaster and Failure: The Perfect Formula for Championship-Level Success.”
It started in Minden
Barnes said everything that’s led her to this point in her career started in Minden.
Her 30-year high school reunion is coming up soon and she’s looking forward to it.
She said she received a questionnaire that included a question asking about senior year highlights.
One of the biggest was playing for the state championship at Hirsch Coliseum. Minden played for state titles in both 1992 and 1993, losing close games to Green Oaks and Carroll, respectively. It was the first time in years the state tournament, then known as the Sweet 16, had been played in North Louisiana.
“What made ‘93 so great was the fact that literally we were going to be at home for the championship,” she said. “We were one of the top teams and all we had to do was to take care of business. And you know we made it to the championship game and lost by a shot at the buzzer.”
The team’s camaraderie and the journey to the championship game is what stands out in Barnes’ mind.
“Going to school with the same group of teammates from sixth grade all the way to high school, going from not being able to make a layup or a chest pass to eventually being one of the top teams in the state is one of the things I’ll never forget and it really taught me the value of teamwork and that everyone has value,” she said.
“Everybody on the team contributed in some kind of way whether they were on the court, whether they were holding our bag or the towels or giving us water or cheering us on. We did not achieve that level of success on our own.”
Family and community ties
Barnes still has many relatives living in Minden and Northwest Louisiana, including aunts, uncles and siblings in addition to her parents.
Her father and late grandmother were originally from Princeton.
Her first cousins, Myron and Lorenza Baker, were football stars at Haughton and Louisiana Tech.
For Barnes, community is everything — her GCAC community and Minden.
“I do just want to give a huge thank you to the community,” she said. “I think it’s important to the people who reported to you and I want the community, my Minden community, Webster Parish and then the Ark-La-Tex at large to know that coming back home is about the community.
“It’s about connecting with these young people. It’s about letting them see college student-athletes, about showing them another way, and I hope the community will embrace us in the way we embraced Independence Bowl.
“I do remember going to the little FCA dinner every year and it was always so exciting to see the football players. Like we wanted to see the student-athletes and it was so cool. It was like, oh, I want to go to college and be a student-athlete or I just want to go to college because I want to be connected to other students who are gonna make a difference some way, and I see us partnering with the Shreveport-Bossier Commission and bringing our championship now to Shreveport in that same way.
“It’s an opportunity of inspiring the next generation of students and student-athletes. So a huge thank you to my community for everything they invested in me, their support and then my teammates. I couldn’t be the person I am without their support.”
— Featured photo courtesy of Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes and the GCAC