Difference Maker: Brady Barke leading Redhawks to success on the field and through challenging times

Brady Barke (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

The job of athletic director at Southeast Missouri State University is much more than raising funds and hiring coaches.

“You're trying to ultimately solve the problems that by the time they get to you, everyone else has tried and nobody's been able to solve it,” Brady Barke said. “And ultimately, it falls to you. I think that a big part of it is being able to support people and being able to let them know that you care and that you're in it together.”

Barke's leadership has led to much success at SEMO, most recently winning the OVC Commissioner's Cup for the second time in the last three years. He takes immense pride in the fact that since 2019, every SEMO sport has won a conference championship.

Advice Barke received during his career has helped him navigate the challenges of being the man at the helm of a Division I athletics program.

“I think the biggest thing that people have helped me [with] along the way has been understanding this adage of how lonely it is at the top,” Barke said. “The type of mindset that oftentimes there are decisions that you have to make, there are discussions that take place that other people aren't privy to, and they'll never get to see it from that standpoint, and you don't necessarily get to go out and explain it to everyone.”

There are certainly plenty of high stakes decisions for Barke, now the vice president for intercollegiate athletics at SEMO.

“Whether that's a coaching change that needs to be made, whether that's stadium issues, whether it’s a conduct issue from a student-athlete, there's lots of things,” Barke said. “You have to just be comfortable knowing that you have all the information that you're going to be able to have at the time, and that you're going to make the best decision that you can. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. And ultimately, that's what leadership is.”

The Redhawks won eight conference championships in the 2022-23 school year. The SEMO men’s basketball team winning the OVC Tournament and returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000 was the reward of Barke’s investment in head coach Brad Korn, hired from the bench of Kansas State before the 2020 season.

The year of 2020 required Barke’s leadership the most. Korn’s first season at the helm was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, after a summer of social unrest. At the same time, the landscape of college sports was changing with the introduction of players transferring freely and capitalizing on their name, image and likeness, all of which “made that year feel like about four or five.”

“It's probably one of the most challenging things I've ever done,” Barke said of the pandemic. “Because nobody had the answers to it. Every day you had different information, you were learning new things and having to kind of evaluate things fresh every day.”

Barke said the most challenging aspect of that year was finding a way for fans to safely return to the Show Me Center and watch the Redhawks’ men’s and women’s basketball teams during the pandemic. They went into the season allowing a limited number of fans to watch games. Then, as vaccines were being rolled out during winter 2021, everyone saw light at the end of the tunnel.

“I think the community, I think the country needed at some point to have an opportunity to return to some sense of normalcy,” Barke said. “We wanted to make sure that we were being responsible in the way that we did it. Fortunately, we had a venue that was large enough that allowed us to be able to still take some extra precautions, make people feel comfortable, but still be able to accommodate people. Ultimately, we didn't want all that work and effort that our student-athletes were putting in to go unnoticed.”

With the hardest saga of his tenure behind him, Barke now looks toward the future with the rebuilding of Houck Stadium, home of the football and girls’ soccer teams.

First: the 4,000-seat south side grandstand, which is expected to be completed in August just in time for the fall sports season. After that: a new press box, end zone facility, north side seating, and replacement of the Houck Fieldhouse will be underway, soon after.

“It's really just the beginning,” Barke said.

Through it all, Barke remains steady at the helm. A quiet confidence. The Redhawks teams, and university at large, are the beneficiary of his leadership.