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SPORTS GUY: Assessing the aftermath

This was not what Northwest College needed.

An academic year that had already featured a faculty-adminstration standoff and controversy over recruitment letters added another chapter to the drama last week when a flare-up at an off-campus party spilled back onto campus. That incident resulted in six student-athletes being placed on disciplinary suspension and three members of the Trapper men's basketball program being dismissed from the team.

One wonders whether NWC's students or its staff members are more excited about summer's pending arrival this year.

In the wake of the incident, the usual batch of questions is getting asked. Was the matter handled properly? Are the college's athletic programs worth enduring incidents like this? Is the college bringing in “the right type” of students for its teams?

I can't speak to the first of those questions. Enough of the details are sheltered beneath the umbrella of student privacy that I doubt an accurate and informed decision can be made by anyone outside the loop.

I will say this, however. Head men's basketball coach Andy Ward deserves acknowledgment for making a swift decision — dismissing three players, including two of the top returning scorers from a successful 2009-2010 team, is not a decision that every coach would have made if placed in that position.

Case in point — an on-campus fisticuff session earlier this academic year between football and basketball players at the University of Kansas involved far more student-athletes and resulted in three fewer dismissals. The most severe sanction to arise from that episode seems to have been some tsk-tsk-tsk finger waggling within the athletic department.

As for the latter two questions, allow me to toss my two cents on the table and answer yes to both.

By my admittedly rough estimate, Northwest College brought around 100 student-athletes to campus this year. The only place you read about the overwhelming majority of them was here in the sports section, because the overwhelming majority went to practice, went to class and went about their business.

That's as it should be.

When an event like last week's altercation takes place, it is easy — or convenient — for some people to forget that, for every scofflaw sent packing, there's a counter-example like Ricardo Bodra or Casper Hesseldal, both of whom have parlayed two seasons in Powell into the opportunity to suit up at Division I institutions next winter. For the occasional bad apple that Trapper wrestling coach Jim Zeigler has laid the unwelcome mat out for, there's a McCade Ford or a Mak Jones who will be advancing to Division I wrestling and possibly one day guiding the next generation of high school wrestlers.

And just what is “the right kind” of student-athlete for Northwest College to bring in, anyhow? For some, that's a catch phrase to suggest more local home-grown students on the roster, but that line of thinking would be a death sentence for junior college athletics.

A state-by-state ranking done earlier this year by Rivals.com placed both high school football and high school basketball in Wyoming among the bottom 10 states in terms of quality. I suspect Wyoming volleyball or wrestling would fare little better in such an evaluation.

Junior college programs like NWC can't compete nationally by relying solely on home-grown talent. It may have been possible once upon a time, but that's not the nature of the business in 2010. There's a level of play out there that many Wyoming youth simply haven't encountered.

Just like the greater campus needs to attract out-of-area students to thrive, NWC's athletic programs require the same infusion of diversity.

Junior college athletics play an important role for student-athletes. For some, they are an opportunity to attract attention after being overlooked in high school. For others, they are a vital second chance to get to Division I when some factor in life prevented that opportunity straight out of high school.

Just like everything in life, there's no guarantee someone will take full advantage when opportunity knocks. That's not justification, however, to stop providing student-athletes a chance to open the door and walk through.

Northwest College does an admirable job of attracting quality individuals, both as coaches and as players. We shouldn't let events such as this past week's scuffle eclipse the broader picture of the valuable role the college plays in the lives of its students and for the diversity and culture of Powell.

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