At the Top of Her Game

A collegiate volleyball star turned Birmingham-Southern athletic director, Kyndall Waters strives to grow leaders on and off the field.

Written by Rosalind Fournier; Portrait by Beau Gustafson

Talk with Kyndall Waters about her standout collegiate volleyball career at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), and the subject of her height will probably come up. In reality, by most standards Waters stands at a perfectly normal height. But she always remembers that she was hardly the tallest player on her team.

“I was undersized for a volleyball player,” she says. Or, “I’m not a tall person, so it was always a little bit of a challenge to be successful.” Never mind that Waters—now the athletics director at BSC, the first woman to hold that position—served as team captain for four seasons, broke records left and right, and eventually became the school’s first volleyball player inducted into the BSC Sports Hall of Fame. So when Waters mentions her height, it’s actually her way of explaining that BSC athletes are tough.

“As a player, the one thing I tried to be or do or show to the world is that I might have a good day, I might have a bad day, but every day that I am participating, I am giving all that I have,” she says. “I think that’s the biggest thing…the student athletes at Birmingham-Southern all have the toughness and grittiness to forge ahead and do the best they can do each day.”

Waters graduated from BSC in 2005 and went on to earn her master’s in human environmental science with a concentration in sports management from the University of Alabama in 2006. She became assistant A.D. at BSC the next year, working under her mentor, Joe Dean, Jr. Today, as Dean’s successor, she oversees a program that includes 22 sports—11 men’s teams and 11 women’s. In all, there are more than 480 student athletes at BSC, and Waters takes her role as their advocate seriously. “The heart of what we’re doing is developing young men and women to go out and live lives of significance,” she says. “Part of that is their participation in the competitive arena, which can be a really good development tool for these young men and women moving into their lives.”

Waters points out that the school, which competes in NCAA Division III, offers no athletic scholarships—meaning student athletes apply for aid based on merit and need, just like everyone else. For some aspiring athletes, that might not be a selling point, but Waters says for those who choose to come here, there’s a certain purity in their love of the game.

“They are coming literally because they love to compete in the sport they’re playing in,” she says. “They’re also competing at one of the best academic institutions in the Southeast and working hard at their academics. There are no ‘cake’ classes here. So I think we know what our product is, these kids care, and they compete hard.”

Waters also points to several conference championships won by the men’s and women’s swim and dive teams, the men’s track and field team, or BSC’s Jamal Watkins being “the fastest football player in the state of Alabama.”

It’s all good, Waters says, even if BSC doesn’t get as much attention for its athletic accomplishments as she might like. The players—and Waters—are no less proud for it, or less grateful for the life lessons learned on the field.

“Athletics are such a great building block for life,” she says. “You go out and compete, and the next day you have to have dealt with the loss or the win or the performance or whatever, and move to the next thing. So it really gives you a good frame of reference for life, when you may fail, but the next day you’ve got to move and look toward to ask, ‘What’s the next step?’”

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