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Reinhardt athletic director Bill Popp was recognized as the NAIA’s best last weekend when he received the Athletic Director of the Year award at the NAIA’s national convention in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Popp was previously recognized as the Appalachian Athletic Conference’s Athletic Director of the year for the 2012-13, 2015-16 and 2017-18 academic years, but he said the recognition on the national level meant even more.

“It was one of those moments that feels like a culmination of how hard you’ve worked with all of your programs,” Popp said. “We’re trying to have a national impact with the sports we have. I try to get involved national with a lot of different things. I couldn’t have been more honored to be on the stage in front of the NAIA.”

Success on the fields and in the classrooms allowed Popp to be recognized.

Following the 2017-18 athletic seasons, Reinhardt won its first Duard Walker All-Sports Trophy as the top athletic program in the AAC, with 75 all-conference athletes, 11 national tournament appearances, 11 conference championships and Coaches of the Year and eight Players of the Year.

However, the 140 athletes to make all-academic teams were just as important to Popp.

“It all starts with hiring the right coaches,” he said. “You have to make sure they’re emphasizing the importance of academics in the overall picture. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that with our team GPAs the last couple years.”

Despite the success of Reinhardt’s athletic program in recent years, Popp said the challenges that were there when he started in Waleska 14 years ago remain. He said the programs have only recently fully developed the culture he set out to build, and remaining successful can be just as difficult as becoming successful.

“It’s always the same things,” Popp said. “You’re fighting to keep your facilities improving. The budget is a big deal. You have to find raise more to do the same things you did last year. It’s keeping up with the Joneses a little bit. You want to make sure you’re operating how you want to operate.”

In addition to his work at Reinhardt, Popp has been involved at the conference and national levels as well.

He has served as the vice president of the AAC and has served on numerous national committees. He recently became the chair of the National Administrative Council and is the chair of the National Drug Testing and Education Committee. He also serves as a member of the NAIA’s Athletic Directors Association board of directors, where he will look to continue growth at all three levels.

“I really like the direction the AAC is going,” Popp said. “I hope we can keep that going. The NAIA is in a great cycle. There’s a growth goal trying to get to 270 school in three or four years. I’m just really happy with where everyone is right now at the AAC and the NAIA, and, obviously, Reinhardt is a piece that fits in both categories.”

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