Appointment of new Athletic Director ushers new ideas at Park

For the first time in more than two decades, Park University has a new director of athletics.

Claude English served as Park’s director of Athletics for more than 25 years. Following his retirement in August 2021, Park University’s athletic department is now under new leadership with the appointment of Kristin Gillette in October, following a nationwide search.

A resident of Roeland Park, Kansas, Gillette received a Bachelor of Science in business administration from William Jewell College and a Master of Arts in sports information from Gonzaga University. After her time at Gonzaga she decided to return home, working nine years for the NAIA before serving as associate director of athletics/compliance at MidAmerica Nazarene University.

“I bring with me a professional network within Kansas City to help connect new opportunities to what I think has been unexplored,” Gillette said. “Park is just a hidden gem. I think we’re just on the cusp of having everyone know about us.”

Gillette has first-hand student-athlete experience after playing NAIA volleyball and basketball at Hannibal-LaGrange University before transferring to William Jewell.

Mike Talamantes, who serves as Park’s director of volleyball and assistant athletic director, has won a total of five national titles between his time as head coach of Park’s men’s and women’s indoor volleyball programs over the last 11 years. He has enjoyed meeting with Gillette one-on-one and seeing how she has taken over the department.

“It’s been cool to see someone else’s vision on how the department should run,” Talamantes said. “Kristin came in with some new ideas in regards to how we’re going to build the programs out.”

Among the new ideas has been the launch of a new documentary series, which launched Jan. 28 on Park Athletic’s YouTube Channel. Episode one of ‘The Road to Des Moines’ follows the Park men’s volleyball team, telling stories of the athletes and coaches. Other ideas have included improving athletic facilities and hiring a strength and conditioning coach.

Gillette also hopes to implement a meeting for all student-athletes at the beginning of the year and an end-of-year awards ceremony to celebrate the department’s success and improvements.

The newest addition to Breckon Sports Center is two video boards, which were ordered before Gillette arrived. She hopes to use the video boards to enhance the game and fan experience while also using them to engage the business community more to support the department.

Gillette has also become involved in Park’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which will soon be renamed Association of Student-Athletes. She has helped rebuild the club’s foundation and responsibilities.

“She brings her willingness to be super hands-on,” said Harper Manley, SAAC secretary and senior women’s soccer player. “She’s been to two or three meetings already and is very proactive.”

Gillette has guided the SAAC to conduct a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats affecting the student-athlete experience at Park.

“The best part about it is we’ve been taking our time with it,” said Hannah Pappert, SAAC president and sophomore softball player. “We know that we can’t rush it in order to have a good committee. This year is more about resetting the responsibilities and our role as a committee. Going forward in the next couple of years this committee can really thrive and make a real difference on campus.”

The findings of this analysis will help Gillette have a better understanding of how she can serve student-athletes and make their experience at Park better.

“We’re moving from just talking about plans to actually putting them in action,” Pappert said. “Figuring out what we can actually do on campus.”

Pappert and Manley said they are both grateful for Gillette’s involvement after the SAAC previously did not feel well-represented by the athletic department.

Gillette is also encouraging the coaches of fall sports programs to continue to keep their teams engaged through the spring semester so they can be better prepared for the fall. This includes continual training and more competition against other schools in a normally minimized spring semester for fall sports.

Her colleagues compare Gillette’s productivity to that of her predecessor, which Talamantes said was needed for the department to continue its progression.

“She is relentless,” Talamantes said. “She is going to work until we figure out how to make each program the best it can possibly be, represent the university in the right way, and, above all, give the students the best athlete experience they can have.”

Gillette hopes that the university and Parkville community can embrace Park’s teams and student-athletes by coming out to support them.

“It’s hard. It’s a lot of hours,” Gillette said. “It’s time and study hall on the bus getting back late at night. They are doing so much, and I would love for our community to just come out and cheer them on.”