Khalia Collier is in some very rare company in St. Louis. She owns a professional sports franchise. Collier is the general manager and owner of the St. Louis Surge women’s basketball team of the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League (WBCBL). She says her local counterparts, Bill Dewitt Jr. of the St. Louis Cardinals and Tom Stillman of the St. Louis Blues, have gone out of their way to reach out to her and she even considers them mentors in her quest to make St. Louis a better sports town and even a better place to live. “It’s great to get the support of the top teams in your city; they think it’s really cool,” she says. Not surprisingly, Stan Kroenke of the St. Louis Rams has yet to introduce himself, but I digress.
Collier is only 27 years old, but her accomplishments are already pretty remarkable. She bought the Surge in 2011 and since then they’ve been to the final four of the WBCBL every year. In 2014 they won the championship. This season they fell short in the finals. Her team plays its home games at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where this past season it set league attendance records.
But to be honest, until just before I met Collier I didn’t even know St. Louis had a professional women’s basketball team. I told her I thought pro hoops died here the day “Marvelous” Marvin Barnes and the Spirits folded back in ’76. She hears that kind of thing a lot, but it only inspires her. “It makes me realize we’ve got to do a better job,” she says. “We’re combining our grassroots efforts with a marketing budget that’s going in next year.”
With a new marketing budget of around $10,000, I have no doubt she’ll make the most of it – Collier is one of the most driven and inspired young professionals I’ve met. “I was instilled with the entrepreneurial spirit by my parents at a young age,” she says. “I live by the saying, ‘If better is possible, then good isn’t good enough.’ ”
Collier says her mother, Tonya, was a teacher and owned a fragrance company, and her father, William, retired from the GM plant and now plays in a jazz band. Collier's parents motivated her to dream big and work hard, but when she told her family that she was buying a sports team, some family members thought she had “lost her mind.” All Collier saw was opportunity.
“I’ve got real skin in the game, and when people meet me, they realize my passion is legit,” she says. “My 90- to 100-hour weeks are real, and that’s why we’re seeing progress.”
Collier graduated from Fort Zumwalt South High School, where she set school records as a basketball star. She played college ball at Columbia College and finished her playing career at Missouri Baptist University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in communications in 2010. She requires all Surge players to have college degrees. The requirement is part of her mission to build a team of self-empowered role models. Collier believes all kids need to be empowered to be successful, and that sports and education is the way to impart it. “Statistics show that that 96 percent of women with executive jobs played sports; it builds leaders,” she says.
And building up people in St. Louis is a part of what motivates Collier. “We are leaders in the community who happen to play basketball,” she says. “When kids come up to get an autograph, they should know that one player is an accountant at Boeing, two work in biotech, one is an engineer. That’s the bigger message; you can truly do anything and still pursue your passion, that’s how you inspire and motivate people, by being leaders.”
Another one of Collier's favorite games is chess – she thinks all kids should learn how to play it because it teaches you how to plan your next moves, like the ones she’s planning for her team. “This is a long game of chess,” she says. “Right now we’re still positioning our pawns; we’re still early in the game.”
She hints that her checkmate move would be to bring a major league Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team to St. Louis. If she can land a WNBA franchise, then she’d really be rubbing elbows with the big guys; Dewitt, Stillman and Collier, pro team owners, working toward the future in St. Louis. I guess three out of four ain’t bad, but again, I digress.