Success Beyond the Sports Center

By Marcia Faye

That Illinois Tech’s director of athletics, Joe Hakes, is qualified to provide athletic vision and lead the university’s efforts toward NCAA Division III membership is unquestionable.

Joe Hakes
Joe Hakes
Photo by: Bonnie Robinson

Apart from his brief career layover as a residential realtor in the Washington, D.C., area, Hakes has spent his entire life studying, playing (soccer, basketball, and baseball), coaching (soccer, tennis, and basketball), and/or administrating sports. Growing up in west suburban Wheaton, Ill., he knew about IIT as far back as the days he listened to Jack Brickhouse provide play-by-play coverage for the Chicago Cubs on WGN Radio. Although Hakes is now on IIT’s side of the court, he shot hoops against the Scarlet Hawks at Keating Sports Center as a student at Trinity International University and in later years coached visiting soccer teams from North Park University and Moody Bible Institute that played against IIT.

Hakes, however, has brought something more than professional abilities to IIT in his quest to help student-athletes succeed: a desire to help them become the very best people they can be after they leave the university.

Less than a week after his official IIT start date of August 1, Hakes greets guests in an office largely devoid of décor save for a desk coaster with the characteristic blue and red logo of his beloved Cubbies. There is also a laminated and framed article from Newsweek hanging on the wall facing him entitled “A Final Journey With Mom,” a 500-word essay penned by Hakes and published in the magazine in 2007. It is a tender account of how he and his family came to scatter his mother’s ashes in the waters bordering the coastal town in Maine where Hakes’s parents spent their honeymoon in 1941.

“My father was sitting on the side steps of the student union at Wheaton College when this freshman girl walked by, and he turned to his buddy and said, ‘That’s the woman who I’m going to marry,’” recalls Hakes, who said his dad had originally intended to spread his wife’s ashes at Wheaton. “She went into the hospital on their 62nd wedding anniversary. She had cancer and we thought that it was gone, but it came back.”

Hakes’s late mother was a nurse and his father was vice president for academic affairs at Trinity, so compassion and higher education permeated the lives of family members. Little wonder that Hakes notes that even with NCAA Division III status in his sites, his aim as athletic director is not necessarily to turn out professional-level athletes.

“What we’re trying to produce are graduates of good, solid academic programs who also have the added experience of being involved in a great competition, who have the ability to work with their teammates and understand authority, and who know how to provide authority in leadership roles,” he explains.

This was a goal he set at all four of the institutions where he served as athletic director—Moody Bible Institute, King University, Gordon College, and Millikin University. Hakes says he is continually amazed by the number of friend requests he gets on Facebook from former student-athletes thanking him for a character development trait he successfully instilled in them.

“To me, that’s a great affirmation that I’ve done something right along the way. I feel blessed to be a part of something that has positively impacted so many student-athletes,” says Hakes. “And I am grateful for the opportunity to take things to the next level at IIT. I‘ve always thought that the university had the potential to be a great [NCAA] Division III school in every sense of the word. I am excited about the future here.”

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