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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The NFCA is pleased to announce that Executive Director of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Mary Ellen Leicht, is the recipient of the Association’s prestigious Distinguished Service Award, which will be presented at the 2016 NFCA Convention in New Orleans.

In 1992, Leicht suggested to the NJCAA that it should form All-Star softball team and have it compete internationally. The team was formed, and in 1993 they participated in the very first Canada Cup International Tournament, which is still in existence today.

"The NFCA is proud to honor Mary Ellen Leicht with our prestigious 'Distinguished Service Award',” said Executive Director Carol Bruggeman. “Mary Ellen has been an innovative leader throughout her career and has played a vital role in the growth of the NJCAA.  Her service and commitment to student-athletes and the NJCAA is unmatched.  The NFCA recognizes and appreciates her outstanding accomplishments and service to the NJCAA community and to the sport of softball." 

The award recognizes a person who has shown exceptional commitment and dedication to the NFCA and the sport of fastpitch softball. Leicht joins Illinois State head coach and NFCA Hall of Famer Melinda Fischer (’02) and former NCAA Secretary Rules editor Dee Abrahamson (’07) as just the third recipient of this prestigious award.

Leicht, an advocate for junior college student-athletes, has played a vital role in the growth of the NJCAA, will receive the Distinguished Service Award at the Softball Summit during the NFCA Convention on Dec. 9, 2016 at the New Orleans Marriott. 

“Mary Ellen works tirelessly to promote all student-athletes in the NJCAA, but also makes sure that the female athletes have the same opportunities as the male athletes,” said NFCA Hall of Famer Celeste Knierim (’03). “The NJCAA and the NFCA owes Mary Ellen a huge thank you and congratulations on a job well done."

Leicht, who will retire following the 2016-17 season, was named NJCAA Executive Director in 2009. She is 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. She will conclude a career spanning 28 consecutive years with the NJCAA, including eight as its chief executive.

Leicht began her career with the association in 1989 as an eligibility administrator and was quickly promoted to associate executive director. She led many of the organization's most challenging initiatives during that time, resulting in more efficient and effective regulations. She assisted with the development of the association's current divisional competition structure for 28 different sports and was also instrumental in the creation and implementation of the NJCAA online eligibility and letter of intent program – one of the most successful programs in the association's history.

"I am extremely happy that Mary Ellen is receiving this award from the NFCA,” Knierim, the former head coach at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, said. “Mary Ellen has been the go to person at the NJCAA for years since she knows every aspect of the organization.  She has always been willing to answer any question, help anyone and initiate programs that would advance their sports.”

During her tenure as Executive Director, Leicht has guided the NJCAA through many challenges while ushering in an era of innovative success. Her leadership helped secure long-term contracts for the association's two most high-profile events, keeping the Division I Men's Basketball Championship in Hutchinson, Kansas, and the Division I Baseball World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado – both coming with multi-million dollar facility renovations and improvements.

Under her direction the association has met many unique challenges facing two-year college athletics, including improvements to student-athlete eligibility standards, expansion of compliance education and enforcement as well as securing sustainable outside revenue through national sponsors.

More recently, Leicht helped lead the comprehensive NJCAA Excellence Initiative aimed at examining the association's organizational and legislative structures. While the project is still ongoing, it has already 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.

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. After reaching over 525,000 viewers last year, NJCAA TV will expand in 2016-17 to include live coverage of 22 national championships.

Leicht's accomplishments and leadership have not gone unnoticed. 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. She was also inducted into the NJCAA Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2004.

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