SAULT STE. MARIE – After devoting 24 years to Lake Superior State University as an athlete, basketball coach and director of athletics, Kris Dunbar will become the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s seventh commissioner.
Dunbar (LSSU ’92) will step down from her director of athletics role at the end of April and take over commissioner duties on May 1. The GLIAC is putting an allegiant Division II advocate at the helm. Dunbar brought unprecedented success to LSSU during eight seasons as head women’s basketball coach, and relied on creativity and teamwork to mentor the LSSU Department of Athletics for 10 years.
She looks forward to bringing her vast experience to the league and guiding the GLIAC through a transition of changing membership.
“I would like to thank Dr. Don Bachand (Saginaw Valley State University president and GLIAC Executive Committee chairman) and the search committee for the opportunity to lead one of the most-prominent conferences in NCAA Division II,” Dunbar said. “I am humbled and honored to be the next GLIAC commissioner.”
“Kris Dunbar has the skills and abilities that make her a great fit for the GLIAC Commissioner position,” stated Bachand. “She has demonstrated great vision and leadership ability as director of athletics at Lake Superior State. Her knowledge and history with the GLIAC will serve her well in the process of moving the GLIAC forward.”
Dunbar replaces Dell Robinson, who served as GLIAC Commissioner from 2009-10 through 2015-16. Prior to Robinson, the GLIAC was led by John Hoekje (1971-72 to 1978-79), Herbert “Pete” Peterson (1979-80 to 1984-85), Tom Donahue (1985-86 to 1986-87), Vern Norris (1987-88 to 1991-92) and Tom Brown (1992-93 to 2008-09). NCAA Division II athletics is comprised of 15 conferences and six independents.
“The GLIAC will have a bit different look next year and we anticipate more changes in the future, but we will continue to be a viable, national-caliber conference like we have been for the past four decades,” Dunbar added. “I look forward to sharing ideas to bring growth, heightened regional and national leverage, and increased viability to the GLIAC.”
Current league members Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Northwood, Saginaw Valley State, Wayne State, Ferris State, Grand Valley State, Hillsdale, Findlay, Ashland, Lake Erie, Ohio Dominican, Tiffin and Walsh compete for championships in 21 sports. Beginning in 2017-18, the GLIAC will welcome Davenport University and Purdue University Northwest to the membership, while Findlay, Lake Erie, Hillsdale, Ohio Dominican and Walsh will move to other conferences.
“When I was coaching I had so much respect for all of the great GLIAC coaches,” Dunbar said. “We wanted to beat each other on the court and were friends off the court. My perception really didn’t change as I entered the administrative side of athletics. While we as athletic directors are all working on behalf of our schools, we ultimately want to make the GLIAC proud and bring national exposure to our conference. Every conference member plays an important role in making that happen. I plan to help them continue toward that goal.”
Dunbar is a Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., native who was inducted into the LSSU Sports Hall of Fame in the Fall of 2016. She was a four-year starting guard and three-year co-captain for the Lakers from 1988-92.
During her eight-year stint (1998-06) as head women’s basketball coach and senior women’s administrator, Dunbar led the Lakers to a 154-72 record, including five straight 20-win seasons and five straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Dunbar was named GLIAC and Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year in 2002, and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Michigan College Coach of the Year in 2003. She was also named the GLIAC’s top coach in 2005 after winning her fourth straight GLIAC North Division title. She led the Lakers to GLIAC Tournament titles in 2003 and ‘04. The Lakers reached the NCAA Midwest Regional finals in 2004.
When Dunbar started out as a young head coach, she envisioned a career with stops at a handful of schools. Instead she continued to put her team-building expertise to work at LSSU, helping Michigan’s smallest state university compete on the GLIAC stage and in Division I hockey.
“Lake Superior State has been so good to me and my family, allowing me to shape a career that I couldn’t have imaged as a young undergraduate,” she said. “I’ve worked with so many wonderful people, and this community is special to me. LSSU and Sault Ste. Marie will always be home. This was a great place to grow as a coach and A.D. I look forward to taking what I’ve learned to the next level and leading a new and dynamic team of accomplished leaders.”
When named LSSU director of athletics in the Spring of 2006, Dunbar focused her attention on fund-raising for LSSU facility upgrades, increasing Laker Club membership and overseeing 14 varsity sports. She initiated or supervised several fund-raising and marketing efforts, including a $300,000 campaign for a new wood floor in Cooper Gymnasium, a Laker Hockey Challenge Fund that raised over $100,000, an annual Pink in the Rink event that has raised more than $345,000 for local health and wellness organizations during the past eight years, and the program’s largest fund-raiser -- the LSSU Women’s Walk. During Dunbar’s tenure, LSSU made several improvements to Taffy Abel Arena’s student section, press box and video webcast capabilities, and she was the inspiration behind special events that brought attention to the LSSU campus, promoted Laker teams or benefitted special causes. In addition, LSSU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee became one of the most-active NCAA SAAC committees in the GLIAC.
“Kris has been an outstanding and dedicated leader for Laker Athletics,” said LSSU President Tom Pleger, who worked with Dunbar for three years. “This is a great opportunity for Kris and the GLIAC. We will miss her and wish her all the best with her new position.”
Pleger has begun a transition process for the LSSU Department of Athletics, and it will include a national search for a new director.
Dunbar served five years (2011-15) on the NCAA Division II Management Council. During that time, she also served on the DII Championships and Identity sub-committees. She has chaired both the GLIAC and Western Collegiate Hockey Association executive committees.
Dunbar earned a master’s degree in education from Elmira College in 1997 and served as an assistant coach at LSSU in 1997-98. Dunbar is a 1988 graduate of Sault Area High School, where she played basketball for her father, Tim Bullock. Dunbar and her husband, Al, have two sons, Tyler and Jaylen. In 2011, Dunbar joined her father as a member of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame.