Barsky becomes first female athletic director in UCSB history
Kelly Barsky always dreamed of growing up to be an educator. In 2023, she’s not only that but so much more — a true inspiration for women in the world of sports.
On Jan. 3, UC Santa Barbara made a historic hire, naming Barsky as the new director of athletics, and in doing so, becoming the female athletic director in the school’s history.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
“To be in a position to serve and support student-athletes and our campus, our community, to me is really exciting and exceptional and overwhelming all at the same time,” Barsky told the Business Times.
“It’s an honor to serve as athletic director. It’s an honor to serve as the first female and I hope that more we have conversations like this, not only locally, but nationally, it’s normalized so you don’t have to identify someone as the first but really, we can identify that the opportunity to serve in this capacity is incredibly meaningful.”
It was no surprise.
Barsky served as the interim athletic director through all of 2022, as previous athletic director John McCutcheon was getting ready to step down from his post — which he did on Dec. 31.
Her record also speaks for itself.
During her time at UCSB, Barsky’s efforts have helped bring to life the Arnhold Tennis Center and see massive improvements to Pauley Track, the Ceasar Uyesaka baseball stadium and Harder Stadium.
She also played a key role in shaping the university’s COVID-19 policies for athletics.
Barsky has also served outside the community acting as the Big West representative to the NCAA Div. 1 Council as well as on the Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee.
Still, a female athletic director is still pretty rare, especially at a Div. 1 program.
Research published by the women leaders in college sports in 2020 found that women hold just 15% of all athletic director positions at Div. 1 school.
Including every university with sports, no matter the level, just 24% of all athletic director positions are held by women.
Both those statistics are more staggering when you consider that nearly half of all college athletes are women.
“We’ve made huge progress and continued progress as needed but it’s important to have many perspectives and welcome a diverse, inclusive leadership environment. You need to have awareness and recognition of what you’re doing well and where you’re falling short so that we can continue to progress and grow,” Barsky said.
“So in this case, I think every moment we have to bring awareness, to educate, to have diverse individuals at the table, is all going to help us progress and hopefully see more women in these jobs.”
Barsky is proud to be the first women athletic director in UCSB history and she is proud to join the few women that do have the same position at Div. 1 colleges.
But her true passion comes from having the opportunity to educate and shape young minds, she said.
Influenced by her father, a coach and teacher himself, Barsky took a lot of inspiration from learning countless things — both on the court and off it.
Barsky grew up playing basketball and was a good player at that.
So good she ended up at Keene State where she recorded the second-most assists in program history – a record that still stands today.
But her dream was to be a teacher, like her father. She was living that dream for three years after graduating, serving as an elementary school teacher.
“I absolutely loved it. The amount of growth you see in kids is incredible,” she recalled.
But then came the calls.
Suddenly, the head coach at the University of New Hampshire gave her the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in kinesiology while serving as a graduate assistant coach for the men’s basketball team.
She never thought a life and career in athletics was for her, but she hasn’t left since.
“That experience became an ‘aha’ moment for me because I realized that ability to be an educator, a mentor and to support students’ journey at the college level,” Barsky said.
“Whether you are a student-athlete or not, the amount of growth during your collegiate experience is significant and a monumental step in your life and so to be someone that has an opportunity to work with students, and certainly in this population of student-athletes, and be a part of their educational journey to me was really special.”
Barsky eventually found her way to UCSB in 2008 when she joined as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball program.
By 2014, then-athletic director Mark Massari brought her onto his staff as a senior women’s administrator and she’s climbed the ladder ever since.
“My journey is a zig-zag, there’s no straight line besides the fact that my mission has always been based on wanting to be an educator,” Barsky said.
“Throughout your life, as you grow and evolve and you have your eyes and ears open and you’re learning, just know what’s important to you and what you’re passionate about. Follow those opportunities and experiences and just make sure that you’re doing something that you’re passionate about and you believe in and that aligns with your values. That’s all I did.”