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Will club baseball slide into UCC by spring 2014?

Baseball proposal going to the Board

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UCC's Baseball
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After more than 25 years without a baseball team, UCC is looking to bring America’s favorite pastime back to the college.

According to Athletic Director Cheryl Yoder, the reason for the proposal of reinstating the baseball program is to help raise enrollment as well as gain more community interest and involvement.

“When budgets are low and enrollment is down, it is a good business model,” Yoder said.

It is no surprise that President Joe Olson is also in favor of the idea of having baseball at Umpqua. However, the Red Sox-loving, New Englander’s personal love for the sport has little to do with the proposal. The January Board report stated that Olson sensed that the Board is not necessarily supportive of expanding athletics. However, “It is an extraordinarily popular sport in Douglas County and many local players leave to play at other community colleges,” Olson said. “This would be an effort to keep them in Douglas County.”

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Umpqua’s baseball program first began in 1975 with Dan Withers as head coach. During this time, the team was a part of the Oregon State Athletics Association. They went to the National Junior College World Series twice before switching to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges. There Umpqua made several appearances at the NWAACC tournament, winning the championship a couple of times, according to Yoder.

“There was a reign right there at the very end for four or five years where they were amazing. Everyone knew about Umpqua baseball back then,” Yoder said.

The baseball team played on campus for about five years before moving to Legion Field in Roseburg. The college’s baseball field existed where the Technology Center is currently located.

“Our left field was home run alley because it was a shorter fence line. Anytime any of our players would hit a home run the book store would buy them ice cream. There was this huge competition always going on with hitting home runs over left field. We couldn’t have anyone park in the parking lot back there!” Yoder said.

The program was shut down in 1985 after the ‘84 and ‘85 seasons. Two wet springs meant that the team was on the road traveling often because the local field conditions were too wet to play on. This resulted in many class absences and downward spiraling grades. A large percentage failed out. When the Board saw this, they decided to stop funding the baseball program.

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“They had to be students first, and so that’s why they eliminated the sport,” Yoder said.

Yoder said times have changed. UCC now has a different approach for student athletes. Athletes are kept on track academically by meeting with advisers, instructors, tutors and coaches. They now have access to laptops and online class options which they did not have previously.

“Academic success is our number one goal, and we work really hard toward that,” Yoder said.

Yoder has been working on reinstating baseball since 2006. “We’ve had three presidents I’ve worked with since ‘06. It’s a very lengthy process, and every time we got a new president I had to start over.”

Olson, who has been president of Umpqua Community College since 2011, recognizes Yoder’s energy. “I have put considerable thought and time into meeting with her and local supporters.”

“It’s a risk to start something that big and new from ground zero,” Yoder said. “He understands why bringing sports to a college is good business.”

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Yoder would love to see more sports at UCC. She said the college used to have 11 sports in the 80s. Southwestern Oregon Community College, which is comparably close to Umpqua, brought more sports back to their campus to boost enrollment. SWOCC now has 16 thriving sports programs as well as two sets of newly built dorms to accommodate the athletes.

The college has also talked for years about having intermural teams. The binding question is who would be in charge? If Umpqua were bigger, it could hire an intermural director to organize and supervise the activities. Unfortunately, the college does not have the finances to do so. The other option of a volunteer position seems even more unfavorable because of the lack of reliability.

Yoder admits it is a risk to start a sports program especially when the current programs might not be completely self-sustaining. However, she said that every athletic director she has talked to is in the same boat whether they have one sport or 10 sports. “We are trying to help the college out with enrollment. What other program can add 50, 60 students today?”

As for the funding of the program, the hope is to initially work with the community. Later on, the coaches and players would have the same responsibility as the current sports programs of fundraising and gathering local support themselves.

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The benefit, as Yoder explains, is that baseball already has a grounded place in the community. Douglas County is well-known for supporting baseball and softball.

Yoder believes if baseball is reestablished, the program will be backed by the community as it was in the 80s. “I believe we will have good support. I literally have not heard one negative comment from any community members that are supportive of baseball.”

“You see it in the sports we have now. If you have winning programs, people come out to support you,” Yoder said. Incorporating baseball could be a way to influence and teach others, especially the players, the importance of work ethic, both individually and on a team. “No coach takes a job and says ‘Oh I hope I have a losing season.’ They are going to work really hard to stay successful.”

A primary goal for the baseball program will be to recruit the best local talent then outsource to fill the empty positions. If the proposal gets approved, Yoder would like to start a club in the spring to prepare for the fall.

“We would still have to hire a coach, recruit 30, 40, 50 [athletes], buy equipment. It’s going to take a lot to get this program off the ground so we should not be ready by spring term this year,” Yoder said.

Instead, spring 2014 would be used as a soft launch for the club to spend time practicing, scrimmaging, participating in non-league games in preparation for kicking off the baseball season in fall of 2014.

Legion Field
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Roseburg's Legion Field

American Legion has already agreed to allow UCC to use their field in return for field maintenance upheld by players and coaches. Future thoughts of trying to get AstroTurf to be able to use Legion Field year-round are also being looked into. Umpqua would also seek out donors and hang business banners on the outfield fences. “Its great advertisement. It shows support. It would be one of our major fundraisers,” Yoder said.

Yoder is readily looking for input and feedback from staff and students about the potential baseball program. “I’ve talked to a lot of students and the big complaint is there is no student life on campus.” Even though the games would be off campus, it would still be a part of UCC. Playing at Legion Field would be a more central location for staff, students and spectators to watch.

Anyone interested in more information about the potential baseball program or anyone who would like to help support the proposal should contact Cheryl Yoder by email at Cheryl.Yoder@umpqua.edu.