Image courtesy of WSJM Sports.com. Release courtesy of SW Michigan Athletics.
In keeping with its ongoing mission of providing affordable, high-quality education, including the total college life experience, the Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees, during its regular meeting on May 12, unanimously authorized the SMC administration to revive four additional intercollegiate sports for Fall 2022: Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Women’s Volleyball and Men’s Wrestling.
In the summer of 2020, SMC announced that after a 25-year hiatus, it had revived its men’s and women’s cross country programs. The College has been signing runners, momentum is building and excitement is in the air for the return of competition this fall.
SMC’s performance in cross country is legendary, with five team national championships, three individual national champions, and 41 All-Americans, but the College also has a rich legacy in other sports, including 11 volleyball All-Americans, four basketball All-Americans, a two-time wrestling All-American and a Women’s Basketball Division II team national championship.
The College will immediately apply to expand its participation in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), plus apply for reinstatement to the Michigan Community College Athletic Association (MCCAA), and renew rivalries with the five other nearby colleges that all currently provide athletics.
“Building a robust athletics program will help SMC and the College district in so many ways,” said Dr. Joe Odenwald in his President’s Report. “First, we will boost enrollment by attracting high school graduates who in the past have looked beyond SMC since we lacked intercollegiate athletics. This move will improve occupancy rates in our modern residence halls, create more evening and weekend activities for the campus community and provide opportunities to involve other students beyond the athletes by showcasing a dance team, a pep band, and vocalists singing the National Anthem. Athletics will energize our Sports Management major by providing numerous immersive experiences for students right here on campus and develop a platform to potentially launch Physical Therapy, Sports Medicine or other health degrees at SMC.
“More broadly,” Odenwald continued, “athletics will draw visitors to games, meets, tournaments and summer camps to patronize local businesses throughout the year and to welcome back hundreds of alumni who participated in these activities years ago. It just creates so many connections back to the current community and from our past to our future. Lastly, everyone should appreciate that it is due to the hard work, dedication and stewardship by this board and my predecessors, including Dr. David Mathews most recently, that this is now possible for all of us.”
Director of Bands Mark Hollandsworth expressed his support in person at the meeting, saying “Having athletics can only be a good thing for all of SMC’s music programs. In my experience, most music students love to play in a pep band, and I envision some of them potentially taking over conducting duties at games to help run the show.”
Professor Ritch Reynolds also weighed in, reminding the board that “SMC’s Sports Management degree is one of few offered in the area, and it is built on the requirement of 250 hours of experiential learning outside the classroom. Working in intercollegiate athletics carries prestige on a resume and hosting dozens of games and meets per year on campus is an ideal way to support our academics, while academics in turn will help to run those athletic events.”
Dr. Trevor Kubatzke, President of Lake Michigan College, generously took time to attend the board meeting via Zoom to share his perspective on the benefits of athletics and to endorse the plan. “It will reduce travel time and expenses for our teams and we welcome having another spirited rival against whom LMC student athletes can compete. Athletics is a positive thing on our campus, and I support this move at the highest level.”
Legendary Coach Ron Gunn, who served in many capacities on campus from 1967 to 2006, is totally on board. “It’s incredible what we’re doing. It’s going to be the best stimulus ever in terms of getting the school fired up again,” Gunn said. “I’m ecstatic. It was very emotional for me to hear. I was involved in [athletics] from the very beginning. I just love this place, and it has so much potential, more than when I was here, with the halls and the gym. It’s got to pay dividends and they picked the right sports.”
Brent Nate, Athletic Director at Dowagiac Union High School, added, “We’re excited for the opportunities that will arise for our students and community with SMC bringing back athletics full time. Southwestern is a hub of the community and many of our students attend SMC as their college of choice. This will provide student-athletes with another local option to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level.”
Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons offered, “This is entrepreneurial thinking. It is about bringing in spectators and teams to our community, for single games and hopefully tourneys. They will need to eat coming or going, maybe fuel up. Plus, the potential for summer camps and large groups being here for several days in a stretch. This has the potential to be a win for the College, our community, and the entire county.”
Chad Gardner, Athletic Director for Cassopolis Public Schools, agreed. “I feel investing in our community and bringing sports back to SMC is one of the best things that has happened to our area in quite some time. This will encourage more students to stay in our community to seek further education and continue their athletic careers. This is a very exciting time to live in Southwest Michigan,” he said.
Dan Applegate, Superintendent of Niles Community Schools, said, “Seeing the impact that athletics has on the development and lives of our students at Niles Community Schools, I commend Southwestern Michigan College for adding more sports. Our students have benefited greatly from learning the importance of teamwork and competition through sports – critical lessons for their success after graduation. We look forward to seeing our students continue to showcase their talents while achieving academic excellence.”
Dean Huppert, Director of Athletics for Mishawaka Schools, said, “Mishawaka High School can’t wait to see the excitement coming to Southwestern Michigan College. Bringing back volleyball, wrestling, men’s and women’s basketball, and building facilities will be a win for student athletes and the community. We wish the Roadrunners good luck in building the foundation for future success.”
To meet one of its core values of high quality in all that the College does, SMC will need to enhance and expand gymnasium facilities to better accommodate team sports. “At SMC, we understand that maintaining the College facilities at a high level is the best value for taxpayers while doing so without requesting additional millages,” Board Chairman Tom Jerdon said. “For example, after updating almost all of our academic buildings since 2015, we are investing another $500,000 this summer to modernize and expand the Niles Campus chemistry labs. As we expand intercollegiate athletics, we are first going to make responsible use of the existing Charles O. Zollar Building for indoor sports with some strategic refurbishment.”
Major elements of the Zollar project will include:
Replacement of the original gymnasium floor – which was installed in the 1970s and has reached the end of its useful life – with a new high-grade basketball and volleyball floor.
Replacement of the original bleachers with a new system that will meet current Americans with Disability Act requirements and provide better comfort and accessibility for fans of all ages
+ Cleaning and painting of the gymnasium ceiling and walls
+ Installation of energy-efficient LED overhead lights
+ Installation of protective padding on both ends of the court to help prevent impact injuries
+ Installation of a new video scoreboard and audio system
+ Construction of new state-of-the-art men’s and women’s locker rooms for the home teams
+ Reconfiguration of the existing men’s and women’s locker rooms for visiting teams
+ Addition of two Officials’ Rooms
+ Addition of a family-friendly restroom for fans
+ Construction of “The Nest,” a second-floor suite of coaches’ offices and gathering area, with a glass wall overlooking the court, suitable for receptions, recruiting or donor events and premium viewing experiences
Upon seeing the initial design, Edwardsburg Public Schools Superintendent Jim Knoll enthused, “Wow! This is a quality facility that can be used for not only athletics, but other presentations or activities. The gathering area above the playing floor is a very flexible space for small meetings or cozy conversations. The team rooms both represent SMC well and are attractive to athletes and officials. Well done.”
The project is expected to cost from $1.8 to $2.0 million, with the majority coming from the College’s existing Building and Site Fund. Administration plans to raise the balance from naming rights and private donations. Construction will begin in December 2021 and is expected to be completed by July 2022. A sample of architectural renderings of the project, created by Abonmarche’s South Bend office, are available to view at swmich.edu, and details of a capital fundraising campaign for athletics facilities will be forthcoming.
Students interested in competing at SMC starting in Fall 2022 should watch the college’s athletics social media channels and web site for coaching announcements and recruiting information.