By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON -- Hearing that Clinton Community College is ending its sports programs is sad. It’s also sad that few will notice, and sadder still that even fewer will care.
“It’s one fewer opportunity the Clinton community will live without.
The administration finally threw in the towel, deciding the school couldn’t compete on the volleyball and basketball courts because it couldn’t compete off them.
“I’m assuming it was try to catch up or eliminate sports, and they took the easier way out,” said Bob Walker, a Clinton native who spent 25 years as CCC’s men’s basketball coach. Walker, a former all-state player at Clinton High who went on to play at CCC, took over as coach in 1981 and has seen both good and bad times since then.
As coach, he guided Clinton to three national tournaments, but the volleyball and basketball programs have struggled in recent years to fill their rosters, attract fans and win games.
“When I retired, the commissioner of the Iowa Community College Conference called and was worried that Clinton would drop sports,” Walker said. “I assured him it wouldn’t, but I could see the day when either it had to or step up.”
The days of battling on an uneven playing field have finally made Walker’s fears come true.
Sadly, it might have been different. But, while other junior colleges in Iowa were building athletic facilities and on-campus housing to attract students, Clinton Community College stuck with the original intent of the community college system in the 1960s to provide regional education alternatives for people in every part of the state.
While there was nothing wrong with that -- and perhaps the college even should be applauded for it -- CCC’s athletic teams were left behind as others in the state grew.
“Everybody else was stepping up their programs, and CCC wasn’t,” Walker said.
As other schools built facilities, CCC had none on campus and was left to work around schedules of Clinton High, and before that Prince of Peace, to schedule practices and games. While other schools built on-campus housing -- not only giving athletes a place to live, but also providing a core of students nearby who might want to watch athletic contests -- CCC students were forced to find off-campus housing.
Walker saw other schools grow and Clinton Community College tread water.
“When I started, Kirkwood (in Cedar Rapids) didn’t have a gym, and look at it now,” Walker said.
He pointed to Iowa Central in Fort Dodge, a community similar in size to Clinton, and how it grew through athletics.
“What I was told at the time was they brought in an administrator from a Kansas community college, and he modeled Iowa Central after the Kansas system, which was quite successful,” Walker said. “I heard that enrollment has gone up drastically since that.”
Walker said there were a few occasions when it appeared CCC might follow the path of other community colleges.
“There was a time the YMCA was looking to build a gym, just before the indoor tennis courts were built, and we went to Freeport (Illinois) to see how Highland Community College did it,” he said. “The Y was on board but (the sides) backed out of it.”
He recalled a time the school considered on-campus housing.
“We had a chancellor, John Blong, who said to me that Muscatine (Community College) was doing housing, and if it worked there, CCC would be next. But he retired. That would have been huge.”
Besides building on-campus housing and recreation facilities, other schools also began giving out more scholarship money. CCC’s offerings, Walker said, remained the same.
“In all the years I I coached, I raised all the athletic scholarship money,” he said. “None of it was from the school. I’d sell ads in the program and ask for donations from businesses and hold fundraisers.
“I did a study at the end, and we were by far at the bottom of giving tuition scholarships. It hasn’t changed since I left seven or eight years ago.
“It’s hard to compete with schools giving full-ride scholarships,” Walker said.
While ending the sports programs might only cost the school a dozen or two students, it will lessen the potential educational experience for everyone at the school.
Kimani Stevens, a sophomore from the Virgin Islands, played for the Cougars basketball team the past two years. Although he is moving on anyway, he was saddened by the decision.
“It broke our hearts to hear,” he said. “I think they don’t care about students.”
Even with a scholarship, attending CCC came with a price for him. It didn’t matter.
“We spend so much money on flights, but we still want to be here and represent the school,” Stevens said.
Spending time in the Midwest was part of the learning experience for him, but it also provided a look at a different culture for other students he met.
“There are so many other ways to learn,” he said. “I experienced a lot of new things in Iowa I didn’t see on the islands.”
But, without basketball, there’s little chance the Clinton community will be exposed to the next Kimani Stevens or the handful of other players who might have followed him from his homeland, and vice-versa.
“It benefited me in a good way, going to school and getting my degree. If it wasn’t for basketball, I wouldn’t be here. Basketball has helped me in so many ways.
“I don’t know how you’re going to get people to come to school,” he said.
Like Walker, Stevens knows sports enhance the education of students, including many who might not have gone on to further their educations.
Walker remembers when he was coach he had an athletic banquet each year. Former players wanted to come and speak to the current students because of the benefits they received from attending CCC. Never mind that Walker couldn’t pay them to appear. They came on their own dime.
“You hear those stories and know it’s not going to happen again,” he said.
Unfortunately, the benefits might be realized only by the likes of Stevens, Walker and others who took advantage of what the sports programs had to offer. For most of the Clinton Community, life will go on as if nothing has changed because they never took advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s sad it’s happening,” Walker said. “It’s been a huge part of my life and a great experience for me.”
Stevens feels the same way.
Unfortunately, though, the benefits of an athletic program will be something future Clinton Community College students won’t be able to enjoy.