WARDELL, Va. — The plan is to put the “Community” back in SWCC.
“We are simply wanting to be that good community partner and to reclaim that trust and that hope with the community,” said Southwest Virginia Community College President Dr. Tommy Wright, who is looking to rekindle the connection that the school once had with the local community. “We know we are not perfect and we know we can’t be everything to everybody, but we simply want to make sure we are doing our part to give back to the community, to be an outlet that at one time we probably did a little bit better job than we have in the last few years.
“We are excited. We think there is such good momentum and a good spirit around the campus and community right now, a lot of positive momentum.”
Athletics will play a vital role in keeping the good times rolling.
“Athletics has always just been important to me, it is something I have always enjoyed being around, watching, doing, but more than anything, when you get something that students are engaged with they are more likely to graduate, more likely to finish,” said Wright, who has been at SWCC since last January. “When you look at just the statistics of it across the nation, athletes are graduating roughly 12 to 15 percent more than general students so it starts to make sense when you look at that.”
Leading the way are several initiatives announced by Wright over the summer, including the addition of 14 sports that will be part of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Five of those are currently in progress as club sports, including fishing, rifle, archery, cheer and dance, and even e-sports, They will be joined in the 2019-20 school year by men’s and women’s basketball, golf, tennis, cross country and soccer, along with baseball, softball, volleyball and wrestling.
“I have never built an athletic program. The logical thing to do is maybe do a couple of teams and then go to a couple more teams, but when you start thinking about it, in some ways it takes the same kind of dedication and effort, whether you start two teams or 10 teams or in this case 14 teams,” said Wright, who noted that the SWCC enrollment is up four percent, just one of three community colleges in Virginia can make that claim. “When you think about building that, you want to put people in positions that you know that can dedicate the time and energy and the hard work.
“It is so much more than just wins and losses. Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer the numbers in the ‘W’ column to be bigger, but you can win in many ways. If we do increase our graduations and our student counts and those kinds of things, then we have won. The icing on the cake is if we win some ball games along the way.”
Leading the Flying Eagles’ programs will be Athletic Director Jason Vencill, a Buchanan County resident, who has long been involved in sports as a participant, coach and official.
“My thing is passion. Passion is contagious and the student and an athlete is going to recognize passion and that is going to further this program. I believe whole-heartedly that passion comes from the top down,” said Vencill, who has hired all the head coaches for the upcoming season with the exception of tennis. “The coaches side and the administration has that passion, they are about academics and athletics. We have got coaches in who have either been at the high school ranks or the AAU ranks and have given a lot of their personal time.
“Yes, it is a job, but it’s not cumbersome. It is something you love, something you believe in. The administration has allowed us the opportunity to build it that way, to bring those people in that share the values and that passion. Everybody is really excited, our community is excited and our students are excited. It is a wonderful feeling that good things are on the way.”
Those programs will be treated just like any other college teams. Coaches will be expected to recruit, scholarships will be offered, and around 200 athletes will be place and ready to play ball next school year. Sixty-three students are already part of the five club teams.
“I am very excited for the coaches that we have brought on. We have brought on some qualified high school coaches as well as some that have some AAU, travel ball experience. They are all very excited and passionate and ready to go,” Vencill said. “They are already starting the recruiting. We have to be able to field about 200 athletes by the start of the season so they have got their hands full.”
Founded in 1967, SWCC currently with an enrollment of just over 2,500 students, most of whom come from Tazewell, Buchanan and parts of Dickenson and Russell counties. Many of the high schools from those communities could include students looking to continue their athletic careers. A new option now exists.
“It presents a real opportunity. What I tell the athletes now you may never have this opportunity. Most of the time when teams are giving scholarships they already have returning athletes, this year there at none, there are no returning athletes,” said Vencill, who added that SWCC plans to host various camps and tournaments on campus, including a middle school boys and girls basketball tourney slated for Dec. 8-9. “You have got that opportunity to get your foot in the door and play collegiately when in the future it might not be as available. That opportunity to add 200 at one time probably won’t present itself again.”
They are playing for something too, as part of Region 10 of the NJCAA, which includes schools from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, with the exception of the Panhandle. SWCC won’t be eligible for NJCAA postseason play until the 2020-21 school year.
“You compete in your region and after that it breaks into a nation to nation tournament. I think there are 24 regions in the NJCAA that covers across the country so the very first year we won’t be able to compete for the national tournaments because we are on a probationary period, but the second year we will be ready to go,” Vencill said. “That will be 2020-21, we will be full-fledged members at that point. This year will be more of an opportunity for these athletes to play in front of these four-year colleges, whether they will be playing the local teams for four years or playing some JV from some of the other institutions and it gets them some of these athletes a second chance.”
Area residents will be urged attend sporting events, with facilities for all the sports available on campus with the exception of softball, which will initially be played at the new diamond adjacent to Richlands High School. Property exists on campus to add trails for the cross country teams.
The price can’t be beat.
“When you look at our middle name, ‘Community,’ everything we can do is to improve that relationship. For our athletic events, we are not going to charge a gate, any type of admission,” Wright said. “We simply want this to be one of the first places people turn to if they are looking for something to do tonight. If they don’t, and it is third deep, we will be on deck so we will batting in the hole so we will let them come. We are happy whether we were their first choice or their third choice for something to do, we just want them to know they are welcome at the campus. We are not charging anything for admission.”
“When you have an administration that comes out and says they are not worried about charging the gate, you can tell where their priorities are and it is with their students and on our success and not so much trying to make that money at the door,” added Vencill. “That speaks volumes for our program.
No wonder Vencill, who has worked for eight years in the finance office at SWCC, is excited about his new opportunity as well.
“I am very excited, the coaches are excited and the 63 athletes who we already have on campus who are competing are excited to be a part of it,” said Vencill, who has a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Intermont and a masters from King University. “I believe good things are on the way, I really do.”
Much more on SWCC athletics in future editions of the Daily Telegraph.
Archery — Michael Brown
Baseball — Brad Strong
Basketball, men — Scotty Boyd
Basketball, women— Thad Lambert
Cheer/dance — Nikki Crigger
Cross country (men/women) — Tammy Huffman
e-Sports — Jacob Richardson
Fishing — Marco Warner
Golf (men/women) — Brad Shephard
Rifle — Chris Tackett
Soccer, men — Fred Harman
Soccer, women — Jordan Blackson
Softball — Amy Smith
Tennis (men/women) — not hired yet
Volleyball — Alexis Carson
Wrestling — Joey Stiltner