April 14, 2014
The 2014 Arch Ward Award recipient, Assistant AD/Athletic Communications Julie Bennett is in her 20th year with Baylor Athletic Media Relations and is primarily responsible for all PR efforts for the nationally-recognized women's basketball team. In the athletic communications profession for 30 years, she previously served at Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Central Missouri State and the University of Hawai'i. Bennett has won numerous CoSIDA national publication awards and also served as a press officer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
By Brian Davis, Austin American-Statesman sports reporter
Every sports information director likes to believe they act professional in difficult moments. The final score doesn't matter in how they do their job, some fool themselves into thinking. Yeah, right.
Sure, it's easy to act professional after wins, whether they come during the preseason or after the national championship game. But let's be honest. Sometimes it's impossible to remain "professional" after losses when the athletes you've spent years with are hurting and reporters -- some who are pros, some who are dopes -- are ready to ask everything, including "How do you feel?"
How Julie Bennett has mastered the art of media relations this long is a mystery. Currently the Assistant AD/Athletic Communications at Baylor University, Bennett has been doing it for three decades, including two at Baylor, which makes her a well-deserving choice for CoSIDA's annual Arch Ward Award.
The Arch Ward honor is presented annually to a CoSIDA member from the university division who has made outstanding contributions to college athletic communications profession and is widely viewed as a credit to the profession. (An equivalent award, the Warren Berg Award, is given annually to a college division SID, with Ohio Northern's Mark Beckenbach the 2014 recipient.)
Mechelle Voepel is the nation's preeminent women's basketball journalist, collegiate or pro. She was there in March 2013 when Baylor suffered a stunning one-point loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. It was arguably one of the most shocking losses in Baylor history.
"It was just really hard to be in that locker room," Voepel said. "I know it was hard personally for Julie, but she was doing her job. I just remember this so well. All of those people were surrounding Odyssey Sims, who was just disconsolate. And Julie was there saying, 'Odyssey, there's a lot of people here we need to take a breath.'
"She was helping Odyssey compose herself," Voepel added, "and as hard as it was for her, she realized that we had a job to do."
Now that's a media relations pro.
"I think Julie is the ultimate professional," said Joni Lehmann, associate director of communications for the Big 12 conference. "She always conducts herself with class regardless if Baylor wins or loses."
The Lady Bears have won a lot under coach Kim Mulkey. Bennett was there courtside as Sophia Young led the program to the 2005 national title and Brittney Griner did the same in 2012. Both of those players, and Mulkey, created intense media attention for Baylor, a school that spent decades waiting for its time in the sun.
"Julie is a loyal and hard-working media relations professional who has successfully promoted Baylor women's basketball nationally," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. "She is highly valued by the athletics department staff and well respected by the media."
Anyone who covers Baylor knows that at some point, you will land in Mulkey's doghouse. But Bennett is the one who sticks up for her coach, her players and her program while providing a roadmap to show you the way out. Working both sides isn't easy, but in this line of work, it's mandatory.
"Julie is one of the hardest working people I've had the opportunity to work with in this business," TV announcer Brenda VanLengen said. "The work she does to balance promoting and protecting one of the most high profile programs in the country is remarkable."
But don't think Bennett spends all her time with the Lady Bears. Bennett was the men's tennis SID for years while that program won multiple Big 12 titles, and the 2004 national championship.
"She's rock solid," Baylor men's tennis coach Matt Knoll said. "I feel like the professionalism of all our people is top notch. Some other schools, you'd expect more from because they don't do as a good a job as we do."
It may be hard for the Twitter and Snapchat crowd to understand, but Bennett's career stretches all the way back to the stone age -- when press releases were actually written on (gasp!) typewriters. She earned a master's degree from Central Missouri in 1983 and actually became the first SID ever hired at Cal State San Bernardino in 1984.
She's been a press officer at the Olympics four times and worked the 1990 Goodwill Games. She's won numerous awards for her media guides, served on CoSIDA committees, been to just about every workshop imaginable and served on the NCAA media staff for the 2006 and 2007 Women's Final Four.
Along the way, this old-school SID helped Baylor build its Web-driven media relations platform. Bennett oversaw the construction and maintenance of Griner42.com, a web site that promoted the All-American center for various national awards. And yes, @JulieBennett42 is on Twitter herself now.
All of this happened while Bennett and her husband Bruce, a retired Air Force Lt. Col., raised four daughters. Now, their family includes 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The couple resides in Bruceville, Texas.
"She's a mom to her student-athletes and is just someone everyone respects," said Tammi (Hoffman) Boozer, who served as Texas Tech women's basketball SID from 1999 to 2011. "She puts in more hours than people realize. She might put in nine, 10 hours at work, but she's going home and putting in more hours there as well. Times have changed, and she's adjusted to those times."
The professionalism is still there, though.
"The way she handles the task with integrity and professionalism is the standard that all should be judged," TV announcer Ron Thulin said. "She has a keen understanding of what we need and when we need it, and she always produces."