story by Jamie Smith
The Northwest Arkansas community has strong support for a community college-level sports program, a room full of area sports program advocates told the NorthWest Arkansas Community College Board of Trustees on Saturday (July 26).
The board met for its semi-annual board retreat, which is where the board member discuss ideas and provide general direction for staff but no binding votes are taken. Board member Todd Schwartz broached the subject of the college offering organized sports for the first time in its nearly 25-year history. It offers club sports, which has nearly 80 participants. Schwartz said he recently attended a conference where the idea of community colleges having competitive sports teams was discussed.
“NWACC has always supported its students through organizations,” he said. “A sanctioned sports program seems to be another way.”
It was standing room only with a large group of people advocating for the program including coaches and local businessmen such as Cameron Smith. Former Razorback baseball coach Norm DeBriyn was also a part of the group and he supported the idea, saying it would draw students, enhance the NWACC brand and encourage more money to come into the college.
All of the advocates speaking at the retreat said the program could be funded entirely through private dollars. Cameron Smith said he has five years teaching experience with fast-pitch girls’ softball and knows how to build a program from the ground up.
“I know how to build this from square one and will not let it affect the college’s finances,” he said.
Through the discussion, several concerns and potential issues were raised including the fact that NWACC’s average student age is 26 and many of those students are full-time workers who might not fit the type who wants to play college sports. Several supporters said they believe NWA has many talented young people who don’t qualify for Division 1 sports but who still want to play.
“There’s a lot of kids out there in our communities that get a lot out of athletics,” board member Joe Spivey said. “It gives them purpose. Both young men and young women.”
Another potential concern is the idea of recruiting students from out of state because Arkansas does not allow community colleges to have residence halls. Spivey said if such a program came to the college he would not be interested in recruiting outside the state because he wants to give Northwest Arkansas student athletes more opportunities.
Schwartz agreed that most the talent would come from the region but that it didn’t mean that a quality program wouldn’t be a draw for those outside the area.
Other concerns that were raised included the potential misconception of the college starting a sports program while it’s trying to solve financial problems and purchase land.
“Would it be a stigma?,” board member Scott Grigsby said.
Meredith Brunen, executive director of development, said that with the NWACC Foundation’s current fundraising activities it would be difficult to add on raising money for that size of a project.
In the end, the board authorized a committee to research the potential costs and funding sources for a baseball (men) and softball (women) program for the college.