The public is invited as the United States Sports Academy celebrates the 35th anniversary of its annual Awards of Sport program with the awarding of an Honorary Doctorate and the unveiling of an original work of sport art on its Daphne, Ala., campus.

The Academy will recognize Trustee and former University of Tennessee women’s athletic director Joan Cronan with an Honorary Doctorate and present prolific painter Steven Lester the institution’s Sport Artist of the Year Award.

The ceremony is free and open to the public beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, 14 November 2019. The Academy’s campus is located at One Academy Drive in Daphne, Ala. A reception will follow. Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP at (251) 626-3303 or email, but reservations are not required.

Honorary Doctorate recipient Joan Cronan:

Joan Cronan

2019 Honorary Doctorate recipient Joan Cronan

Each year as part of its awards program, the Academy presents honorary doctorates to people who have made outstanding contributions to sport and to society. Joan Cronan is an Academy Trustee and the former longtime University of Tennessee (UT) Women’s Athletics Director.

Cronan has served on the Academy’s Board of Trustees since 2014. She also received the Academy’s 2011 Carl Maddox Sports Management Award, which is given annually to an individual for contributions to the growth and development of sport enterprise through effective management practices. Cronan also served as National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) President in 2008-09.

Among her many accomplishments and awards, Cronan was the first female to receive NACDA’s Corbett Award since 2010 (Barbara Hedges, University of Washington) and the only recipient to graduate from LSU, the institution where the Corbett name became synonymous with the highest levels of success in athletics administration. The award is presented annually by NACDA to the collegiate administrator who “through the years has most typified Corbett’s devotion to intercollegiate athletics and worked unceasingly for its betterment.” Additionally, Cronan received an honorary degree from the Sports Management Institute (SMI), an educational institute sponsored by NACDA and the universities of Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Southern California and Texas, and automatic induction into the NACDA Hall of Fame.

Cronan served as the women’s athletics director at Tennessee for 29 years until 2012. During her tenure, Tennessee expanded women’s varsity sports from seven to 11, the Lady Vols earned 10 NCAA titles and 24 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament Championships and annual giving to support women’s athletics increased to $2 million per year. She prioritized academics with student-athletes, leading an initiative that stressed class attendance and engagement. As a result, female student-athletes earned an average 93 percent Graduation Success Rate during her tenure. Cronan also started a community service component that emphasized civic responsibility as part of an athletics experience at the university.

In 2017, Cronan was honored by the NCAA with the inaugural Pat Summitt Award, which recognizes an individual in the Association’s membership for positively influencing college athletes and their experiences through the individual’s careerlong commitment to advocating for college sports. Award recipients are selected annually by the NCAA President and receive a $10,000 honorarium to donate to the organization of the honoree’s choice that combats or researches neurological diseases of the brain. Cronan donated the funds to the Pat Summitt Foundation.

In 1998, Cronan’s work earned her accord from the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, as she was named its Administrator of the Year. In March 1987, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) presented her with its leadership award. She also won NACWAA’s 1995 regional award.

Throughout her career, Cronan served on the NCAA’s Executive Committee, Management Council, as well as the NCAA’s Council, and was a member of the NCAA Championship Cabinet. She was also a member of the SEC Executive Committee.

Sport Artist of the Year Steven Lester:

Steven Lester studio shot with Saban painting

2019 Sport Artist of the Year Steven Lester

After four decades of leadership in the commercial creative field, Atlanta’s Steven Lester fully embraced his passion for painting and quickly gained notoriety for what he calls “representational expressionism.” Because Lester’s action sports themes resonate with vibrant life and elicit a visceral, emotional response, he was named the Academy’s 2019 Sport Artist of the Year.

Growing up in Atlanta, Lester loved drawing, painting and playing sports. He played baseball through college and achieved a black belt in two forms of martial arts. After graduating from Georgia State University with a degree in Visual Arts, he began his career as a commercial illustrator with an emphasis on sports. He produced a series of Gameday program covers for Georgia Tech University, and his skills landed him a role as the Creative Director of Turner Broadcasting System. After getting a taste for television, Steven ultimately became a Vice President and Creative Director for two international advertising agencies, where he won more than 100 national and international awards.

Even though Lester achieved commercial success, he never lost sight of his lifelong ambition of becoming a full-time sports artist. Upon retiring from leadership in the advertising field, Lester shifted his focus to his love of painting. His dynamic, narrative subjects are both contemporary and imminently relatable. His work is in demand by major corporations, universities, art collectors, athletes and private individuals who appreciate his unique style and approach.

He was selected as one of only 16 artists in America to be a 2019 Fellow in the Clark Hulings Fund’s Art-Business Accelerator Program.

Lester has been invited to stage several live painting events at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.