Helaine Morres guest col: The rise and (fall?) of Wildcat athletics

Clouds lifted lazily over the Pine Nut Mountains as Old Glory floated in the breeze. The smell of peanuts and popcorn caught noses with delightful surprise as foot long hot dogs tempted resolves with their sizzle and pop.

The sounds of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” crackled through the speakers and soon Whitney Houston’s 1991 version of the “Star Spangled Banner” would bring players and spectators alike to a standing salute. The opposing teams stood in perfect form on the first and third base lines, bodies tensed in anticipation for the phrase that would start the inaugural game at John L. Harvey Field in Carson City. For those involved in the journey to bring athletics to Western Nevada College, their blood, sweat and tears would become fully realized upon hearing two simple words. The much anticipated start echoed off the western mountainsides as a young voice bellowed “P L A Y B A L L!” The umpire signaled to the pitcher, the catcher slapped his mitt, and the batter lifted his arms high into the air… #GAMEON!

An idyllic start and a dream come true, however, for the past 10 years, it’s been as tough as baseball in the sandlot — grueling fundraising, blatant discrimination by the state by disallowing the funding of athletics at the community college level, and constant justification of this unequal treatment, as if a small college in the corner of the state would presume to be great. What kept the program going was the staunch belief what was happening was more than just a game, it was about community in the highest sense of the word.

For the baseball team, its prowess would rank it as one of the best junior college programs in the nation. Major League Baseball’s No. 1 draft pick in 2010, Bryce Harper and his team, the College of Southern Nevada Coyotes, played and were beaten four times at the hallowed field on Carson City’s west side. For the women in softball, their rise to glory has been in the academic ranks and they are now starting to make their presence felt in the conference standings.

When the decision was made public the college was cutting the athletics programs with no community outreach or plea for help, the response to this decision was swift and palpable, as quick as Lou Piniella being ejected from a game. Would it be “three strikes, you’re out” or extra innings for the teams? The Athletic Foundation of Western Nevada was founded the same day the announcement was made. As an independent 501(c)3 non-profit group, the purpose of the AFWN is to raise money primarily for Wildcats Athletics. From the very beginning of our conversations with the WNC administration the fundraising targets were difficult to nail down, like nasty sliders coming in at 96 mph or a tricky change-up floating in at 78. AFWN was prepared to raise $150,000 a year for five years starting in 2017 (as reported in the Nevada Appeal), repair the infield, and secure funding for a softball field, yet at our last meeting with college representatives, we were told the entire $750,000 needed to be sourced by no later than May 31, 2015, which gave us three weeks to comply.

It was alleged this decision was the result of budget cuts; yet not all of the details were shared. Instead of engaging the community in a joint effort to save these programs, they were deemed, for whatever reason, to be expendable even though the college would continue to receive student funding for the athletes for at least two years after the end of the program in 2016. What happened to the college’s sense of ownership and loyalty? Where is the sense of pride once engendered by the performance and dedication of our student-athletes? Lost and forgotten by all but a few. The tremendous benefits of athletics for the college and western Nevada is simply being tossed out like a used hardball hit by too many bats.

The wind is picking up and there’s a chill in the air. The sun is almost behind the mountains and coats are clutched tightly about. It’s the bottom of the ninth, we’re down by three, the bases are loaded, and the count is full… you make the call.

Helaine Morres, who resides in the Seattle area, is president and co-founder of the AFWN. Morres can be reached at (775) 315-3757. If you think community colleges should have access to athletics like universities and high schools, contact the Governor’s Office at 775-684-5670.


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