Clayton State athletics director Mason Barfield, who started the athletics program at the school 22 years ago, announced on Tuesday that he was retiring on Oct. 21.
He started the athletics program at Clayton State University from scratch in 1989. Twenty-two years later, Mason Barfield is leaving Laker athletics on its strongest ground.
Barfield announced on Tuesday that he will retire next month as athletics director at Clayton State. The only athletics director in Clayton State history, Barfield’s last official day will be Oct. 21. He leaves behind a program that he started with one sport at the NAIA level in 1990, and developed it into a highly competitive program at the NCAA Division II level, and a program that won its first national championship, in women’s basketball, this past March.
“Mason Barfield was, first and foremost, a university leader. While his more than two-decade focus was on athletics and student athletes and athletics programs, that focus was guided by his commitment to this university and its commitment to learning,” Clayton State President Dr. Thomas J. “Tim” Hynes said. “He followed the rules; he put student learning and student success first; he believed and proved, together with his coaches and staff, that a program could do those things, and succeed competitively. He is seen as a campus leader whose voice is to be respected and valued.
“For me personally, I have come to rely on his perspectives on this university and on athletics and on higher education. I will miss him a great deal.”
A native of Hahira, Ga., Barfield was hired as the athletics director and men’s head basketball coach at Clayton State in the fall of 1989. That was after he served one year as an instructor and men’s assistant basketball coach at Kennesaw State University, three years of teaching and serving as boys head basketball coach at Lassiter High School in Marietta, and three years of teaching and coaching at Lowndes High School in Valdosta.
Over the first five seasons as an NAIA program, he built the Laker men’s basketball program into a highly-competitive team in the Georgia Athletic Conference, winning consecutive regular season conference championships in 1994 and 1995, and winning more games than all but one four-year intercollegiate program in the state over his last three seasons.
In addition, he also helped institute both women’s basketball (1991) and men’s soccer (1992) at Clayton State.
However, Barfield’s biggest challenge came in the winter of 1995, when the Clayton State administration announced the intention to move the athletic program to NCAA Division II status and join the Peach Belt Conference.
To make that happen, Barfield oversaw the unprecedented move of starting up five new sports — women’s soccer, men’s golf, women’s tennis and men’s and women’s cross country — with competition in those five sports beginning in the fall of 1995, just six months after the announcement of the additions.
After the first few years of transition into the Peach Belt Conference, Laker athletics began to take shape at the Division II level. Since 2000, Clayton State has won 14 Peach Belt Conference regular season championships and finished conference runner-up on 11 occasions. In addition, Laker teams have also won eight Peach Belt tournament titles and finished as tournament runner-up four times, establishing Clayton State as an elite power in the Peach Belt. The Lakers’ combined PBC Commissioner’s Cup points total since 2000 distinguishes the program as one of the top three most successful programs over that period of time.
At the national level, Clayton State teams have advanced to the NCAA Division II National Tournament 27 times since 2000, including three “Final Four,” six “Elite Eight” and 14 “Sweet 16” appearances. The culmination of that success was last spring when the Laker women’s basketball team captured Clayton State’s first-ever NCAA Division II national championship, defeating Michigan Tech, 69-50, on March 25, 2011, in the title game in St. Joseph’s, Mo.
“The one thing I would like to stress more than anything else is that this has been a team effort on behalf of everyone here at this institution. It’s been the most important ingredient to our success,” Barfield said. “What we’ve accomplished here is directly related to the literally hundreds of people here at Clayton State, and in our community, who have supported what we have done over the past 22 years.
“I firmly believe this athletics program’s best days are still ahead, for it will continue to reflect the continued success of this great institution and the wonderful future that lies ahead for it.”