After graduating from Camden High School, Barbara Wilkes said there were two things she absolutely did not want to do: 1) be a nurse and 2) be a teacher.
She later had a change of heart and enrolled at the University of South Carolina (USC), where she earned a teaching degree in 1972. Her first job was at Baron DeKalb and Mt. Pisgah high schools. Her career evolved into one dedicated to school athletics and student athletes.
On March 9, the Camden native will celebrate the direction her life took when she is inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Administrators Association (SCAAA) Hall of Fame for her commitment to athletics in the Palmetto State. The SCAAA represents high school athletic directors and principals.
Wilkes was one of the first full-time female athletic directors in South Carolina and served at North Central High School for 19 years. Wilkes is the first female in Class A to be a region coordinator and serve as region president.
After graduating from Camden High, she attended Newberry College, but after two years she married and had a child. She moved back to Camden and worked at her parents’ open air market. After the birth of her fourth child, Wilkes made that fateful decision. She enrolled at USC.
Sports have always been in Wilkes’ blood. She played basketball for Camden High, Newberry and USC. During her last year at USC, the girl’s basketball team went to nationals in Iowa. A lot of the teams had adult women on them, Wilkes noted.
“It was the first time I’ve ever seen a 7-foot female,” she said of her college years. “That was way before the WNBA.”
She got a job teaching at two rural high schools, Baron DeKalb and Mt. Pisgah. She took her students on play dates and taught them sports like archery, Wilkes said.
Volleyball in Kershaw County popped up around the same time, she recalled. The Charleston area already had 10 to 15 teams and Columbia had a few teams, as well. Still teaching at Baron DeKalb and Mt. Pisgah, she launched volleyball programs at both schools, which competed against each other during regional tournaments.
Baron DeKalb and Mt. Pisgah merged into North Central High School in 1979 and Wilkes continued to coach at the consolidated school. When she was offered the athletic director position for the second time, she accepted the offer and became one of the first full-time female athletic directors in South Carolina.
During the course of her career, Wilkes coached volleyball, basketball, track and cross-country, and coached all four of her children in some kind of sport. Now retired, Wilkes still works at the SCAAA Spring Conference every year, stays active and keeps busy with her grandchildren.
Wilkes is a charter member of the SCAAA. She served on the board of directors from 1991 to 1997 and again from 2000 to 2002. She was president of the association during the 1995/1996 school year. In addition, Wilkes was vice chair of National Volleyball for five years and is one of 10 U.S. citizens to serve on the Gatorade Athletic Council in Illinois.
“Barbara developed a complete, well-rounded and competitive athletic program which, for several years, saw all 12 varsity teams reach the state playoffs,” said John Carlisle, executive director of the SCAAA. “She has a great record as a coach and athletic director, and has been an active member of SCAAA.”
This is the second annual Hall of Fame award ceremony. The association wanted to recognize athletic directors who have done an outstanding job during their time of service.
“It’s a demanding job overall,” Carlisle said. “You are responsible for sports at every level, the athletic facilities and day-to-day issues.”
Hall of Fame inductees must “have played important roles in the development of their school’s athletic programs, promoted the well-being of their student-athletes, contributed at the state and national levels for the betterment of their coaches and are currently retired.”
The banquet will be held March 9 at the Charleston Marriott Hotel. Visit scaaa.org for more details.