Hedges announces early retirement

'And o'er the land, our loyal band will sing the glory of Washington forever.' Those words, part of the final stanza of Washington's fight song 'Bow Down to Washington', were also the final words of Barbara Hedges prepared statement Friday, as the Washington athletic director stepped down and announced her retirement.

Hedges had planned on retiring at the end of June regardless, but cited the two major events of the last six months, namely the termination of head football coach Rick Neuheisel and the accusations levied at the Washington athletic department by Dr. William Scheyer over use of prescription drugs given out to student-athletes, as reasons for her early announcement. She made this decision roughly at the end of December.

Hedges will step down effective January 16th, but insisted that she will still be at Washington's 'beck and call' and will do anything she is asked to while the Husky athletic department wades through the issues still on their plate. At this time, Hedges and husband John have no immediate plans to move from the area, and she stated that she would be available to help the program in any way she could, especially in regard to any Pac-10, NCAA and other investigations that are ongoing or pending.

A Pac-10 meeting is scheduled for March of 2004, where they will decide to uphold Washington's self-imposed penalties stemming from a charge of 'failure to monitor' by the conference.

That charge was brought about because of Rick Neuheisel's apparent violation of NCAA Bylaw 10.3, which precludes gambling on intercollegiate athletics by people in ICA, football staff involvement in NCAA basketball pools and secondary violations regarding use of a booster's boat and charge for said use.

But it was Neuheisel's termination and Scheyer's allegations that sped up Hedges' timetable. "I am making this decision now with the hopes that the focus of the program can return to where it belongs - on coaches, student-athletes and their exceptional accomplishments."

"I am thinking, 'This is the greatest job in America,'" Hedges said when she first came to Washington as it's Athletic Director in 1991 and the football team had just won a share of the national championship. "It was then, and it is now. But back then it was a lot more relaxed environment."

Over Hedges' 12-year tenure, she outlasted two University Presidents and oversaw a department of 177 full-time employees and 23 intercollegiate sports with an annual budget of $39 million. "If you include the band, there are over 1000 student-athletes involved at the University of Washington, so the job today is a lot more difficult because of the numbers and also because of the scrutiny," she said. "It's a more complex job."

Interim University President Lee Huntsman thanked Hedges for her years of service and said that an interim Athletic Director would be named 'before too long'. "We will begin a search for a new athletic director shortly and I expect it to be a very attractive position."

Huntsman stated that a search committee would be put together within 'the next week or two' and that it would be done much in the same way any other search committee would be populated. "A majority of the people on the committee will be from outside the department," he said. He also stressed that a search of this magnitude does not work under a strict timetable but hoped that a new athletic director would be named before the summer.

Asked what specific attributes would constitute a worthy candidate, Huntsman said flatly that Hedges will be the standard by which others will be measured by in the future.

"Barbara Hedges has been an extraordinary athletic director for the University of Washington and over her 12 years leading the program has taken it to new levels," he said. "She has been an outstanding representative of this institution, and we are grateful to her for her years of service."

The interim President was quick to point out Hedges' substantial contributions toward improving the academic success of student athletes during her tenure. Last fall the NCAA's graduation rate report showed that Husky student-athletes were graduating at 70 percent, above the national average and third only to Stanford and Cal-Berkeley among Pac-10 schools. The football team was second only to Stanford in graduation rate.

"The improvement of graduation rates is only one indicator (of success), but I believe it's a valid one," said Huntsman.

"I was very focused on the total program," Hedges said when asked about the things she's most proud of accomplishing while at Washington. "I wanted every coach and every student-athlete in this program to have an opportunity to achieve at the highest level. And looking back over twelve-and-a-half years there is no question that we've accomplished that."

Since 1994, Washington has placed in the top ten-percent of over 300 Division-1 schools in the Directors' Cup, which measures overall athletic achievement. Hedges hopes that when fans of the University of Washington step back to measure success under her guidance, they take into account more than just the events of the past six months.

"If people step back and see the total picture, I hope that's what they'll see," she said.

"I wanted student-athletes to grow in an environment where they felt comfortable and felt good about their experience at the University and they felt great when they left the University and remained connected. I feel we're doing a much better job. And certainly the facilities we have built, but it's not just the buildings - it's the opportunities that have been created for coaches and the student-athletes and people in the community as a result of the generosity of the Husky faithful and the amazing group of people that have committed their time and energy to this program."

Under Hedges' command, she is credited with building the Husky athletic program into one of the best in the nation, overseeing massive facilities upgrades of more than $100 million, including the construction of the Dempsey Indoor Facility, Husky Softball Stadium, Husky Ballpark (baseball), Husky Soccer Stadium, renovation of the Conibear Shellhouse, the Husky Hall of Fame and the East End Practice Field. She also negotiated the contract with Washington National Golf Club that serves as the home for the University's golf teams.

"Barbara has done a marvelous job in terms of getting us current with out facilities and with getting us all that we have to offer our student-athletes," head football coach Keith Gilbertson said. "I hope everyone understands and appreciates that. I truly value all the work she's done for the Huskies, for me personally and for all the student-athletes."

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