Campus Colleagues: Cali Crawford

September 6, 2023

An athlete and an advocate, Athletics Assistant Director Cali Crawford wants Dearborn Wolverine student-athletes to know she’s been in their shoes and she wants to support them every step of the way.

Photo of Athletics Assistant Director Cali Crawford

As a college point guard, Cali Crawford set (and still holds) a college program record for assists. As a UM-Dearborn athletics assistant director, her assist game is still on point. But now she uses a different set of skills when working toward a win.

Crawford warns that her title is a long one: She’s UM-Dearborn’s Assistant Athletics Director of Compliance and Internal Operations and Senior Woman Administrator (SWA).

Crawford, who’s been in her role for a year, leads a dedicated team that helps keep student-athletes moving toward graduation, while also maintaining compliance with NAIA and Wolverine Athletic Conference rules and regulations. She also serves as an advocate for gender equality in sports and athletics as the first UM-Dearborn SWA. “I’ve felt the importance of athletics in my life. It’s what pushed me to succeed on and off the court,” said Crawford. “I want to make our students’ time playing here the best possible experience for everyone — it's what we all do in Athletics.”

Crawford comes to UM-Dearborn after serving as Schoolcraft College’s athletics director, where she oversaw the transition from Division III to Division II in the National Junior College Athletic Association. Other professional accomplishments include a successful term on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Women in Sports Task Force, coaching Ladywood High School to a Catholic League championship, and earning a Master of Science in Sports Administration from Eastern Michigan University while also working as their director of operations for the women’s basketball team.

Get to know Crawford in the first Campus Colleagues feature of the school year.

As a student, sports boosted Crawford to academic success.

Crawford said athletics came naturally for her, though academics didn’t. But she pushed herself to do well in school so she could get in the game.

“School was not my favorite, but it became a priority because I wanted to play,” she said. “I know the role athletics can have in motivating you to do everything you can do to succeed in class too. I struggled, but worked hard to keep my grades up — tutoring, study groups and staying on top of my homework. It was hard and sometimes, even with my best, I got a C. But my parents saw I was putting in my best effort and were supportive. I’m really grateful for them allowing me to grow within sports.”

Crawford said that sports — specifically basketball — opened a path to college and one that showed her how long-term efforts can pay off. During her time at Madonna University, she earned a spot on the dean’s list.  “I even surprised myself. My parents were so excited. I had picked up good study habits along the way and everything finally clicked for me,” she said.

Knowing the struggle, Crawford wants student-athletes and families to know there are resources on campus to help and that she’s cheering for our students on and off the court, field or ice.

Crawford helped create Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Women in Sports Task Force report.

From 2019 through 2022, Crawford served as one of the 14 voting members of the newly created Michigan Department of State Task Force on Women in Sports. Committee members — including legendary U-M Softball Coach Carol Hutchins and Grand Valley State University Athletics Director Keri Becker — gathered statewide and national data to provide an overview of the current state of girls and women in sports at the K-12 and college and professional levels. Using that information, they made recommendations to the governor on how to increase opportunities and representation for women and girls in sports across Michigan.

Crawford said her three-year term gave her the opportunity to share her perspectIve. “I’m an example of someone who loved sports and played on a lot of teams, but didn’t see any women leading my teams while I was growing up,” she said. “Girls stop playing sports at a much faster rate than boys and earlier than boys do. It's important to have representation so that girls and young women can see themselves continuing in sports and see themselves in leadership roles.”

She said the SWA designation in her title is part of the effort to increase visibility and she’s proud to be on a campus that values representation. “It’s all about balance and we have a good balance here. Someone opened the door to provide opportunities for me as a student-athlete and as a professional. I want to do the same,” she said. “There are things we all can do to keep holding that door open. Go to a game. If you know a student-athlete, ask her how the season is going. Let our women know that the hard work and dedication they put in is noticed and valued.”

Sports gave Crawford a lifetime of memories. She hopes they do the same for Dearborn Wolverine athletes.

Back when the Detroit Pistons logo had teal in it — so sometime between 1996 and 2001 — Crawford attended her first NBA game. But she wasn’t a spectator; she got to go on the court as a ball girl. That connection was through her AAU coach, who happened to work for the Pistons. “Having my first professional game on the floor was amazing,” she recalled. “That’s when Grant Hill, Joe Dumas, Jerry Stackhouse and Rick Mahorn were playing with the team.”

Her basketball team connections also gave her one of her favorite keepsakes — a senior day quilt made of Crawford’s old No. 10 jerseys. One of her friend’s parents made it for her and she plans to pass both the number and the quilt down to her daughter, Mylah Marie, one day. 

“Outside looking in, you think it is just a game, but it's much more than winning and losing,” she said. “Sure, I want to win. I’m competitive. But the friendships and experiences gained through playing is one of the greatest gifts that basketball has given me. I hope my daughter falls in love with something like I did, something that connects her to amazing people and great memories. She has plenty of time to figure out what that is — she’s 14 months.”

Crawford said she credits athletics for shaping who she is today as a leader, mentor, parent, partner, professional and person. She knows that the players who represent UM-Dearborn are being molded by their experiences, too. So she makes sure to say hello to everyone she walks by in the Fieldhouse and often engages in a quick chat with players. And she makes it a point to attend home games.

“I’m super grateful to be part of such an amazing community that has so much diversity and one that prioritizes student success,” Crawford said. “Come to the games. We’ve got some exciting teams to watch this year. If you see me, say hi. I’d like to meet you.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.