- Academic Division
In 1979, Mary Ellen Leicht became the third generation of St. Joseph Academy graduates in her family. Following her high school graduation, Leicht earned her bachelor’s and master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the University of New Mexico, respectively.
Leicht began her career with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) in 1989 as an eligibility administrator and was quickly promoted to associate executive director. Under her direction the association met many unique challenges facing two-year college athletics, including improvements to student-athlete eligibility standards, expansion of compliance education and enforcement.
During her tenure, Leicht led the NJCAA women’s division to substantial growth and increased opportunities for female student-athletes.
Leicht’s steadfast commitment to raising the NJCAA’s profile and brand led to the 2009 launch of the association’s live video broadcasting network– NJCAA TV, providing a prominent and visible platform to greater showcase the organization’s highly competitive national events. In 2014, she was honored with the NJCAA Reed K. Swenson Leadership Award, becoming just the 10th individual to ever receive the honor since its creation in 1980.
In 2009, Leicht was named NJCAA Executive Director – just the third person to occupy the position since the association’s founding in 1938. Her promotion made history as she became the first female chief executive of not only the NJCAA but of any national collegiate athletic organization in the United States.
Prior to her retirement, Leicht helped lead the comprehensive NJCAA Excellence Initiative aimed at examining the association’s organizational and legislative structures. In addition to identifying future initiatives, this project resulted in the adoption of a new strategic plan and the creation of the Presidential Advisory Council – expanding the involvement of member college presidents in the NJCAA.
Founded in 1959, the NJCAA Service Award is the most tenured recognition handed out by the NJCAA. In honor of her retirement in 2017, the NJCAA renamed the honor to the Mary Ellen Leicht Service Award in recognition of the 28 years of dedicated service by its third Executive Director.