Amy Perko, a three-time Academic All-American at Wake Forest who set multiple school women’s basketball records, is the executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. After earning her master’s degree, she worked at the NCAA and Kansas. Before joining the Knight Commission, Perko was the first president of the Fayetteville Patriots, an NBA development team. Perko currently serves on the Child Advocacy Center Board of Directors and is a youth basketball coach.
The Silver Anniversary Award honors former student-athletes and distinguished individuals are recognized on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their college athletics careers. Perko and fellow recipients Doris Burke, Tim Brown, Kevin Johnson, Sean Payton and David Robinson will be honored Jan. 13, 2012, during the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.
Perko: A couple things. One just from my personal experience, I grew up playing in my driveway and I imagined playing with [former Wake Forest standout] Skip Brown or some other stars, male basketball players I had seen on TV. Just the other day my daughter was shooting and she said, “Hey, mom. Look at me. I’m Maya [because she had just swished two baskets].” I said, “Who?” She said, “Maya Moore.” Just for kids growing up today seeing it on TV and seeing women’s athletics on TV, it certainly has more exposure, more popularity, if you will, for kids.
In terms of being on campus I think there probably is more time investment particularly in the off-season. We had offseason workouts, but I think what happens today is much more structured and much more expectation, if you will, during the offseason so I think that in terms of just time commitment changes that’s probably a change that has occurred.
Q: Do you think there’s a change in the level of play? Do you think it’s a different game?
Perko: I think it’s faster. I think if you look at some of the changes…After my freshman year is when the women’s, the size of the ball changed, which I think that was a great change for the leaders who made that change and recognizing women’s hands usually are smaller than men’s and it just lead to better ball handling, fewer turnovers, lead to increased shooting percentage, outside shooting. The 3-point line didn’t come in the women’s game; it was not a part of the women’s game when I played. I was an outside shooter so I would have enjoyed the 3-point line, but so just those kind of technical changes certainly helped change the game as well.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about your professional career. How would you say your experience as a student-athlete at Wake Forest shaped the professional career that you’ve enjoyed?
Perko: I think going back to the word balance…That I was able to balance the academics and the athletics, to understand the importance of both and getting the most out of both of those things. Certainly the work that I’ve been involved with the Knight Commission is all about preserving intercollegiate athletics and achieving that balance of academics and athletics. My experience has inspired me to remain involved because I think sports can be such a profound developmental experience. Having it be done in the right way, having policies that support and incentivize doing it in the right way allows for that balance for those college students who have the abilities to participate at the higher level.
Q: What is the essence, what is good about collegiate athletics? Would you explain to me what that essence is to you?
Perko: What is good about collegiate athletics is the opportunities it provides for the athletes and the opportunities for learning, the opportunities of being part of a team, the opportunities to develop your own human potential with the gifts that you have been given, the opportunity to learn focus, following through, balance; all those things that are going to help you throughout your life and things that you may not necessarily take out of a classroom; that learning laboratory, if you will, that athletics provides and certainly it provides a sense of community and provides tremendous benefits for the participants. Certainly there are other benefits it provides for the campus as a whole, but I’m really talking about the benefits that I took out of it as someone who loved participating as an athlete.
Q: Talk about your basketball team. You said you have practice later on. That’s a form of community involvement, a form of giving back. Why is that so important to you?
Perko: Giving back is important to me in terms of the gifts you have been given and to be able to then as an adult teach those to kids and teach in a way you think will help them not to necessarily develop as college basketball players, but to teach them that they can improve with practice, that they can accomplish certain goals. I’ve been fortunate in this community to coach girl’s basketball even before our girls were old enough to start playing. Now I have the opportunity to coach our daughters. That’s always special when you can be part of that with your own daughters on a sports team.
Q: Tell me about them. How old they are?
Perko: This team is 8-to-10-year-old girls and I’ve coached 8-to-10-year-old girls more than five to six years now. When we get to practice they’ll be about 16 to 17 girls there and we divide and we’ll have two different teams and it is a church league. I help direct the practice with a couple other parents, and we really stress fundamentals just teaching the basics and teaching them we are there for fun as well.
Q: What enjoyment do you get out of it?
Perko: The enjoyment again is I like to teach and if I didn’t have the career that I have I probably at one point I looked at being a teacher so I enjoy teaching and seeing individual improvement and seeing a young girl get excited about hitting a basket; getting her first basket in a game or something like that; creating memories for kids, creating special moments. I enjoy teaching and it’s easy when you have a certain amount of proficiency with something. It’s been an easy way to give back to the community and when we moved in this community we didn’t have this church league for girls. The girls just combined with the boys and at that age it can be intimidating. It’s been good for our community to have this girl’s league.
Q: Can you explain to me what significance basketball holds in your life?
Perko: It’s been a huge part of my life. Just in terms of providing enjoyment, providing fun, providing them a vehicle where I was able to achieve goals I set for myself. Providing just a great opportunity when I was a college student to be part of the team at Wake Forest and then providing a passion really for college sports in general, which has been for the most part my entire career.