Chris Peterson begins his 14th year as Director of Athletics at UALR in 2013-14. A rare breed among athletic directors, Peterson is one of just a handful to have played and coached college athletics before making the move into administration. His commitment to academic and athletic excellence was recognized in 2010, as he was named Under Armour Central Region Athletic Director of the Year by NACDA.
"You would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable and dedicated Athletic Director than Chris Peterson," said UALR Chancellor Dr. Joel Anderson. "Under his leadership, Trojan student-athletes are held to high standards of academic and athletic performance. Chris gives UALR fans much to cheer about year after year."
Under Peterson’s direction, UALR posted another strong year of athletics and academics in 2012-13. The women’s basketball team captured its sixth-straight Sun Belt West Division title while earning a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament to secure its sixth-consecutive postseason appearance. With its 24 wins in 2012-13, UALR is one of just 18 Division I women’s basketball programs with 20 wins in each of the last seven seasons.
The UALR men’s cross country team won its second Sun Belt Championship in three years, and head coach Milton Williams was named the league’s Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year for the third time since his hiring in 2004. Volleyball player Edina Begic was named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year after leading the nation in kills and points per set while leading UALR to a share of the Sun Belt West Division Title.
Academically, the UALR men’s and women’s basketball teams posted the highest multi-year APR of all Division I member institutions in the state of Arkansas in 2012-13. Additionally, 57.2 percent of UALR’s student-athletes were honored by the Sun Belt Conference for academic achievement. UALR track and field and cross country athlete Marissa De La Paz became the recipient of the Sun Belt Post-Graduate Scholarship, given annually to the SBC student-athlete who best exemplifies superior academic achievement. Teammate Mackenzie Bloom was one of just nine student-athletes from the conference named to the Sun Belt Leadership Team, an honor given to letter-winning student-athletes and based on leadership, sportsmanship, community service, citizenship and academic excellence.
Peterson oversaw yet another successful year for UALR athletics in 2011-12. The women’s basketball program made its third-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance by repeating as Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions. The Trojans reached the 20-win mark for the sixth-straight year en route to the program’s five-consecutive postseason appearance and SBC West Division title. Additionally, the men’s basketball program boasted a 12-4 record in league play to claim the SBC West Division title – the program’s fifth division championship since the hiring of head coach Steve Shields in 2003.
Academically, UALR posted the highest Cumulative Academic Progress Rate (APR) in the state of Arkansas for the fourth-straight year. UALR student-athletes posted a combined GPA of 3.11 for the 2011-12 academic year, with 58 percent earning a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. Furthermore, UALR’s four Sun Belt Academic Awards in 2011-12 placed it second behind Denver for the most team academic awards in the conference.
Peterson presided over arguably the greatest season in school history in 2010-11 as UALR was one of just 12 Division I institutions out of 347 to have its men's basketball, women's basketball and baseball programs reach the NCAA Tournament.
All three teams captured Sun Belt Conference Tournament championships for the first time in each program's respective history, while the men's cross country team added a Sun Belt championship and an NCAA Regional berth in the fall. In addition to UALR's many team accomplishments, basketball players Chastity Reed and Solomon Bozeman swept their sports' Player of the Year awards and were both recognized as the Sun Belt Conference Student-Athletes of the Year.
Since his arrival at UALR in 2000, Peterson has made it a priority to enhance the collegiate experience for Trojan student-athletes. He ushered in a new era in Trojan athletics in 2005-06 with the unveiling of the Jack Stephens Center. The state-of-the-art 5,600-seat facility became the new on-campus home to the Trojan volleyball and basketball teams and forever changed the face of UALR athletics. The construction of the on-campus competition arena was made possible through Peterson's relationship with the late Little Rock philanthropist Jack Stephens, who donated $22.4 million to the project - the largest gift in the history of the university.
In addition to serving as the new home court for men's and women's basketball and volleyball, the $25 million Jack Stephens Center features an auxiliary practice court named after UALR alum Derek Fisher, a five-time NBA world champion and current member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, an academic support center and state-of-the-art facilities for sports medicine and strength training.
His impact hardly stops there, as he was able to secure a gift of $1.6 million from an anonymous donor to renovate the UALR baseball facility, which has since been renamed Gary Hogan Field in honor of the Trojans' longtime head coach and current associate athletic director at UALR.
The two million dollar renovation project began with the installation of 30,000 square feet of Astroturf 1200 to cover the infield. The facility also features a new lighting system that exceeds the standards required for collegiate baseball; a 90-foot-by-90-foot outdoor workout area and bullpen with five pitching mounds; a 10,800-foot indoor practice facility; improvements to the grandstand and baseline seating areas; and a new sound system, backstop and foul line fencing.
In the fall of 2012, UALR unveiled the Coleman Sports & Recreation Complex, giving the soccer and track and field programs an on-campus home. Both the soccer field and eight-lane track feature state-of-the-art Polytan synthetic surfacing. In addition, the NCAA-approved facility boasts stadium lights, a scoreboard and a top-of-the-line irrigation system.
Facilities are not the only area Peterson has made his mark, as he makes certain that UALR student-athletes fully embody every aspect of the word "student." Under his watch, the Trojans have maintained a 93 percent graduation rate for all full-time entering freshmen who remained at UALR and exhausted their eligibility. In addition, Trojan student-athletes have maintained a cumulative grade point average over 3.0 each of the past ten years. During the 2012-13 academic year, 64 percent of UALR student-athletes achieved a GPA of 3.0 or better, helping the Trojans post a 3.18 cumulative GPA.
Peterson's commitment to academic and athletic excellence was recognized by UALR's University Assembly in April 2009, as the Faculty Senate presented him with an award commemorating his leadership in making academic statistics as important to his student-athletes as those from competition. In April of 2010, the UALR Faculty Senate issued a resolution recognizing the outstanding academic performance of UALR's student-athletes.
During Peterson's tenure, the UALR men's basketball program has graduated 100 percent of its players who have exhausted their eligibility under head coach Steve Shields. In the 2003 calendar year, the men's basketball team graduated eight players - an achievement exceeded by only one other school in the country. A study conducted by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, ranked the men's basketball program in the top-10 for Graduation Success Rate among the 2011 NCAA Tournament teams along with Notre Dame, Villanova, Illinois, BYU, Xavier, Vanderbilt, Utah State, Belmont and Wofford.
The women's track and field team led the nation with a 3.61 GPA during the 2006-07 season, while the women's golf team was ranked in the top-25 nationally in GPA for two-straight seasons. The 2007-08 season saw 12 of UALR's 16 teams recognized for academic excellence by their respective coaches associations. During the 2010-11 season, the women's swimming and diving team tied for 15th place nationally with a 3.47 GPA, while the women's tennis team earned the Sun Belt's Team Academic Award for the third-straight year with a 3.79 GPA.
In the fall of 2003, UALR was recognized as the top Division I-AAA university in the nation for improving the graduation rates of its student-athletes, enjoying a 33 percent raise from the previous academic year.
Athletically, UALR has enjoyed record success under Peterson's watch, with the women's basketball team making three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances in 2010, 2011 and 2012 - the first-ever NCAA berths in the program's history. Head women's basketball coach Joe Foley and men's basketball head coach Steve Shields have combined to lead UALR to more Sun Belt Conference division championships (11) than any other program during their ten years in Little Rock.
Over the course of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, the UALR men's and women's basketball teams were one of just 29 Division I programs to record back-to-back 20-win seasons. Of those 29 schools, UALR ranked 15th among that elite group with a combined winning percentage of .724.
Women's basketball returned to UALR in 1999 after an 11-year absence, and the program has since risen to record heights under Foley. The Trojans won six-straight Sun Belt Conference West Division Championships and recorded 20-or-more wins each of the past seven years. The 2009-10 Trojans enjoyed a school-record 27-7 season with a 17-1 mark in conference play and advanced to the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament with a 63-53 victory over sixth-seeded Georgia Tech.
The 2010-11 women's basketball team captured the program's first Sun Belt Tournament title with a 66-59 victory over Western Kentucky in the championship game, to give the program its fourth-straight postseason appearance (two NIT and two NCAA). The program had its first player selected in the WNBA Draft when Sun Belt Player of the Year Chastity Reed was taken by the Tulsa Shock with the 25th overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
The men's basketball team, meanwhile, has captured more Sun Belt Conference division championships under Shields (five) than any other program during his ten years at the helm. The Trojans' 64-63 victory over North Texas in the Sun Belt Tournament championship game gave UALR its first-ever SBC Tournament title and first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990.
The UALR baseball team made history in 2011 by becoming the first No. 8-seed in Sun Belt Tournament history to win the conference championship. Making the program's first appearance in the SBC Championship game, head coach Scott Norwood's squad defeated Florida International, 7-6, to earn the school's first trip to an NCAA Regional.
In addition to his impact on UALR, Peterson was instrumental in bringing the 2008 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship to central Arkansas. UALR hosted First- and Second-Round games at Verizon Arena in March of 2008, which marked the first NCAA Tournament games ever played in the state of Arkansas. In March of 2012, the Jack Stephens Center hosted two rounds of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament.
Peterson's desire to produce well-rounded graduates is evident in the creation of the Fisher Fellows Life Skills Program, which aims to mentor student-athletes on the day-to-day challenges they face. In addition to the mentoring program, Peterson has implemented an etiquette dinner and an appreciation banquet to thank senior student-athletes for their many contributions to Trojan athletics. As part of the Senior Honors banquet, the athletic department produces a resume book highlighting all graduating seniors and distributes it to potential employers in the area.
Having previously served on the 21-member NCAA Division I Recruiting and Personnel Issues Cabinet, Peterson began a two-year term on the NCAA Division I Administration Cabinet on July 1, 2010.
Peterson, the son of hall of fame college coach and athletic director Gil Peterson, was an All-American quarterback coming out of high school in Huron, S.D. He received scholarship offers from numerous schools, including Nebraska and Arkansas, before deciding to attend Kansas State. While at Kansas State, Peterson battled for a starting spot with future 16-year NFL veteran Steve Grogan before transferring to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After two successful seasons at UWM, Peterson signed a free agent contract with the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals.
Peterson was a quarterback and receivers coach and offensive coordinator at the collegiate level for seven years, including a stop at Eastern Illinois where he coached current New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, before moving into athletic administration. He first served as assistant athletic director at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. Revenue for the department tripled during Peterson's tenure at the school.
Peterson left Pacific in 1988 for a similar position at Kansas State. He was part of the original senior athletic administration which paved the way for the biggest football turnaround in NCAA history, transforming Wildcat football from a perennial doormat to a program of national prominence. Peterson also established an athletic marketing department at KSU, utilizing students from the university's business school. The department injected more than $1.2 million annually into the athletic budget. Peterson was also vital to the university's multimillion dollar football facility renovation, and was a member of a select committee that negotiated new broadcast deals for KSU athletics, doubling the school's previous television contract and increasing three-fold the previous radio contract. Peterson also contracted with a nationally-renowned artist to donate artwork valued at more than $100,000 to create a new logo for all Kansas State athletic teams.
After his success at Kansas State, Peterson moved to the University of Nebraska in 1992, where he was hired by two Husker legends: football coach Tom Osborne and Director of Athletics Bob Devaney. Peterson and Devaney quickly formed a close friendship, even to the point where Peterson was a pallbearer at Devaney's funeral in 1997.
Peterson served as associate athletic director at Nebraska, creating the university's first athletic marketing program. He also led the athletic department foundation, which saw revenues rise from $2 million to $3.5 million in just two years, and assisted the foundation president in the university's $200 million capital campaign.
In 1996, Peterson left Nebraska to become executive vice president and partner of start-up company Pinnacle Sports Productions which bid on and secured the radio and Internet rights to Husker athletics for $8.5 million over five years. After Pinnacle was sold in 1997, Peterson moved 50 miles north to Omaha and Creighton University. There, he directed a $2.7 million renovation of the baseball and softball complex and oversaw a $2 million campaign for a new state-of-the-art student-athlete support center, which was completed in September 1998. Peterson also assisted the vice president of development in soliciting and targeting athletic gifts for the university's $100 million capital campaign, and increased funds for scholarships, sponsorships and media sales from $447,000 in 1996-97 to more than $1 million in 1999-2000.
Peterson and his wife Tracy, an elementary school teacher in Little Rock, have three children: Skye (30), Trent (21) and Blair (19). In 2005, Tracy was named Teacher of the Year in the Little Rock public school system.