John Robert "Bobby" May was named director of athletics at his alma mater in 1989, when the athletic program at Rice was at a crossroad. Many sports were struggling, athletic costs were rising and the overall credibility of the program was not what it needed to be for a Division I school.
Fifteen years later, May has assembled a group of coaches, administrators, staff and student-athletes to help fashion a turnaround that has created a renewed feeling of athletic pride and accomplishment in the Rice community.
At no time in Rice's 92-year athletic history was that pride greater than on June 23, 2003, when the Owl baseball team won the first NCAA team championship in school history with a 14-2 victory over Stanford in the final game of the College World Series in Omaha. Every segment of the Rice community reveled in the title, but it was not the only "national championship" won by Rice.
Rice athletes not only excel on the field, court and track, Owl student-athletes also perform above par in the classroom. In September, 2002, Rice was the recipient of the USA Today/NCAA Academic Achievement Award for maintaining the top student-athlete graduation rate in the nation. With a graduation rate of 91 percent, Rice topped Division I-A, followed by Stanford, Notre Dame and Duke, which tied for second with 90 percent each. The statistics were for student-athletes who entered as freshmen in the fall of 1995. In 2002-03, 20 student-athletes were named to academic all-district teams, the most in school history. Nine of those went on to earn national academic all-America recognition, surpassing the previous school-best of four. This past year, the Owls landed eight on national academic all-America teams, and had the academic all-America athlete of the year in baseball and men's track and field.
Since 1994, the Owls have brought home 26 conference championships, dating back to the years when Rice was a member of the Southwest Conference, and into the Western Athletic Conference, of which Rice has been a member since 1996. The 1999-2000 season was one of the best for the Owls, as Rice brought home six conference titles, including an impressive sweep by Victor Lopez's women's track and field teams as they won both the indoor and outdoor titles, in addition to the cross country crown. The men's cross country team also grabbed its first conference title since 1928, and added another title in 2001. The 1999 baseball team became the first team in school history to achieve the nation's top ranking. The team has won the WAC title in each of the last eight years, four times advancing to the College World Series.
The 2003-2004 season saw much of the same for Rice. The Owls brought home four WAC championships - men's tennis, men's and women's outdoor track and field, and baseball - and saw both the men's and women's basketball teams playing in the postseason. The men's tennis team spent much of the season ranked in the top-20 in the nation, placing as high as fifth during the season. The doubles duo of William and Richard Barker were again the ITA doubles team of the year, and helped the Owls advance in the NCAA tournament. The men's and women's track and field teams swept the conference at the outdoor meet, the first title for the men since 1995, and the fourth for the women in the past five years. Rice's men's and women's basketball teams each reached the 20+ wins plateau and earned a berth in the postseason NIT and WNIT, respectively. The Lady Owls advanced to the second round, falling to eventual national runner up, UNLV. The women's soccer team, in just its third year of existence, advanced to the championship game of the WAC tournament, while the football Owls posted a 5-3 record in conference play, winning four of their final five games of the season.
May has played an integral part of renovating the Rice athletic facilities, the first major improvements since the early 1970s. Recking Park, considered one of the elite collegiate baseball facilities in the country, underwent a $1.6 million renovation this past spring, adding an additional 600 seats to the facility. The Rice track stadium underwent $1.4 million in renovations during the 2000-2001 season to accommodate the addition of women's soccer. The Rice Track/Soccer stadium will now play host to the Owls soccer and men's and women's track and field teams. In May, 2002, the track was resurfaced and named the Wendel D. Ley Track. Construction finished in January, 2000, on Reckling Park, the $7.4 million home for Rice baseball. In 1998, Rice built the $2.1 million Henry and Lena Fox Gymnasium as a practice facility for the basketball and volleyball teams. In 2002, Autry Court received a major face lift when a new "state of the art" hardwood floor was installed. Most recently, during the summer of 2003, the pull-out bleachers were replaced with new chairback seating, an improvement sure to be a big hit with the fans. The 2002-03 year also saw to the demolition and reconstruction of the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium, plus the addition of two more courts just in time to host the 2004 WAC championships. Other major improvements have included grass practice fields for football, AstroTurf for Rice Stadium, a covered and lighted batting cage at Reckling Park, and improved scoreboards for football, basketball and tennis. Rice Stadium also received an upgrade in lights, locker rooms, entrance areas and press-box luxury seating, as well as the $1.3 million John L. Cox fitness center, which more than doubled the existing size of the athletic weight room. Those projects were funded by vigorous new efforts in athletic fund-raising, which has been significantly increased under May's jurisdiction.
Since joining the university as an assistant track coach in 1967, May has been the ultimate team player. His popular ascension to the department's number-one position was the culmination of almost three decades of on-the-job training.
May's contributions to Rice began during his undergraduate days on South Main. He was a four-time Southwest Conference champion in the hurdle events (1963-65) and added the NCAA high-hurdle title in 1964. A finalist for the Olympic trials in the hurdles in 1964, May was part of the second group of Owls inducted into the Rice Athletic Hall of Fame in the fall of 1971.
After periods of business in Waterloo, Iowa, and his native Dallas, May was named assistant track coach and assistant business manager under Emmett Brunson at Rice in 1967. He became head track coach and assistant athletic director for business in 1976. In 1979, he retired from coaching and devoted all his time and energy to the business operation of the athletic department. He remained in that capacity for five years before being promoted to associate athletic director in 1984.
As the department's number-two man, May's responsibilities included the department's general finances and the day-to-day operations of the University's varsity sports. He served in the position under three ADs: Augie Erfurth, Watson Brown and Jerry Berndt. When Berndt resigned in Dec., 1988, May was the logical choice as the University's 12th director of athletics. His service in the athletic department has spanned over five decades, and his length of service as the athletic director is second only to Jess Neely.
Since taking the department reigns, May has supervised the hiring of football coaches Fred Goldsmith and current head coach Ken Hatfield, men's basketball coach Willis Wilson, baseball head coach Wayne Graham, men's tennis coach Ron Smarr, and men's track and field coach Jon Warren. Additions to the women's staff have included basketball coach Cristy McKinney, volleyball coach Genny Volpe, women's soccer coach Chris Huston, and women's swimming coach Seth Huston. Nine coaches have received conference coach of the year honors, including Lopez, who is a six-time WAC coach of the year. These hires have helped Rice achieve renewed success and public acceptance in the sport each represents, and have contributed to Rice student-athletes graduating at a continued high rate. The total athletic scholarship endowment for Rice student-athletes now totals over $22 million, the majority of that coming under May's tutelage.
The 61-year-old May has served on a number of national and conference committees, including the executive committee for Division I-A athletic directors, and the NACDA executive committee. In the NCAA he has served on the Division I championships cabinet and in the WAC he is a member of the championships committee.
May graduated cum laude from Rice in 1965 with a B. Commerce degree. His daughter Lisa, 37, graduated from Rice in 1990 and is married to Nathan Every. May has two grandchildren, Emma Reilly Every (6) and Oliver Pace Every (1).