When she was growing up, O.J. Kemp -- the woman now in charge of athletics for one of the biggest school districts in Texas -- might have never imagined the world as being much more than Waco and what surrounded it.
She knew McGregor was her home.
She knew Waco was where her mom worked and Killeen was where her dad worked.
She knew Baylor University was at the top of it all -- the university, the place she and every kid around her wanted to wind up one day.
Some far off land, probably.
"You know, it's so strange. I tell people this all the time," she said last week, seven days after being named athletic director for the Arlington school district. "I love Baylor and Waco so much that, if I had gone to Baylor, I probably would have never come to Arlington. I would have stayed in Waco the whole time."
And there would have been nothing wrong with that, but it might not have led her to this point as the Arlington school district's first woman athletic director -- an African-American woman athletic director, at that, in what has long been a male-dominated field.
"It is significant. It is," she said. "We can't deny that. That I am a woman and an African-American woman, who works hard. And when you work hard, good things happen."
Kemp is on a short list of female athletic directors in Texas. Some of the others are DFW-area neighbors: Willa Gipson at Birdville, Debbie Weems at Mansfield and Gina Farmer at Cedar Hill.
The Little Elm school district is led by Sandra Howell. The Houston school district named its first female athletic director last August, Marmion Dambrino.
"Everyone says I'm the first woman in Arlington, and yes, I'm the first woman in Arlington, but there are lots of women ADs," she said. "With me in this position, hopefully it will give other women in AISD that dream of this opportunity as well. And there are some, because I have spoken with them, and they would love to come up and be an assistant or an athletic director one day."
Kemp believes hard work distinguished her.
She's proud of helping Gunn Junior High, where she got her first principal position in August 1998, to a top academic rating.
She's proud of being an assistant principal at Arlington High and later spending six years as an assistant athletic director for I.C. Little, who she replaced upon his retirement this spring.
And she's proud of the competitive teams she produced at Sam Houston as girls basketball coach.
"The results don't lie," she said. "I feel like everywhere I've been, I've been successful. So my results tell you that I work hard, that I believe."
No matter her background, or how much she believes in herself, Kemp faces the challenges as nearly every athletic director at high schools in Texas.
Money is tight.
The Arlington school district won't use Maverick Stadium for games this fall, saving about $100,000. Booster clubs will be asked to contribute even more to athletic budgets. Travel plans will have to become more efficient.
"Fortunately, we still have our coaches," she said. "Each high school campus still has 40 coaches. Our junior high campuses have eight coaches. Right now, we haven't lost any coaches."
In March, Kemp's own job status was out of her control. Her position as an assistant AD was cut, and she was told to prepare to be an assistant principal at Sam Houston in the fall.
But Little changed his retirement plan and instead of waiting until the end of the first semester of the next school year, he chose to step aside in May. That opened the position, and the school district filled it with Kemp.
"But I'm here by myself," she said. "I don't have any assistants." And she has Aug. 1 circled on her calendar. Kemp gets to meet with her coaches, and the next athletic year unofficially begins.
"I'm pumped. I can't wait," she said. "C'mon, August 1st. I'm ready."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407