Mt. Airy native named athletic director at Drexel U.

by Len Lear
Posted 7/9/21

Drexel University selected Mt. Airy native Maisha Kelly to be their new director of athletics following a national search. She will begin her new position on July 19.

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Mt. Airy native named athletic director at Drexel U.

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Mt. Airy native Maisha Kelly, 43, who grew up near the Germantown Jewish Center at Lincoln Drive and Ellet Street, has just been named Drexel University’s new director of athletics.

Following a national search, Drexel University selected Kelly, a collegiate athletics administrator currently serving as Bucknell University’s senior associate director of athletics and senior woman administrator. She will begin her new position on July 19, succeeding Eric Zillmer, who stepped down in the Spring after more than two decades on the job.

“Maisha is a proven, high-energy leader who no doubt has an ambitious vision for Drexel athletics,” said Drexel President John Fry. “She has a demonstrated ability to work with all campus constituencies and understands the vital importance of nurturing student-athlete leaders. We are honored to welcome her to the Drexel community.”

“I am excited to be coming back to my favorite city,” Kelly told us in a phone interview. “My mom (Annet David) lives in Chestnut Hill and gets the Local every week, so she will be thrilled to see this article in the paper.”

Kelly, who recalls sledding down the street to Lincoln Drive as a child when it snowed (“not the safest thing”), went to the Henry Elementary School, where she played basketball and ran track, and Gwynedd Mercy Academy, where she won a state title in 1991 in the 800-meter running event.

Kelly won an athletic scholarship to St. Joseph's University, where she was a captain on the women's track team, graduating in 2000. “My older brother was on the wrestling team at La Salle High School,” she said, “and both brothers and my older sister and I all swam. Mrs. Tucker at Allens Lane Center taught me how to play tennis, and I played on their courts.”

The Mt. Airy native received her master’s degree in Sport and Recreation Administration from Temple University in 2005. She was a student teacher at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion and then a sixth grade teacher and track coach at Waldron for four years. She later worked briefly at Vanderbilt University and then Rutgers University as an athletic and academic advisor for three years.

In 2010 Kelly took an administrative position at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, central Pennsylvania, which included oversight responsibilities for as many as 12 of the 27 varsity athletics programs.

She joined Bucknell after serving as assistant director of championships at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, making sure that NCAA championship competitions were run smoothly, and she has served as the NCAA’s sport leader for swimming and diving. In 2018, Kelly received a prestigious appointment to the NCAA Division I Council, where she represents the Patriot League on important policy matters.

“Maisha rose to the top of the pool and is eminently qualified to leverage the success seen across all sports at Drexel,” said Subir Sahu, Ph.D., senior vice president of Student Success who oversees the Department of Athletics at Drexel. “She will support the high level of competitiveness, academic excellence and attention to diversity and equity that characterizes Drexel athletics.”

Kelly will oversee a department that sponsors 18 varsity teams. The Drexel Dragons won Colonial Athletic Association championships this past season in men’s basketball, women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse. Also, the women’s lacrosse team earned an NCAA at-large bid for the first time ever. Drexel Rowing won the overall points title at the Dad Vail Regatta, with the women’s team earning gold in the Varsity 8.

“I will be working with the coaches in all 18 sports,” said Kelly, “to make sure we maintain the highest levels of integrity and support.”

On June 21 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the NCAA could not bar relatively modest payments to colleges' student-athletes, a decision that underscored the growing challenges to a college sports system that generates huge sums for schools but provides little or no compensation to the players beyond their athletic scholarships.

When asked how this will affect her new position, Kelly said, “We're still committed to amateurism, but we need to evolve and think about what opportunities will now be appropriate for our student-athletes.”

Kelly said she is not sure where in Philadelphia her family will be living. Her husband, Kevin, was a track coach at Penn State. They have two children, Gregory, 7, and Kennedy, 5.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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