The Western Nevada College baseball and softball teams will fold after the 2016 season, college officials said Tuesday.
“It’s the toughest decision I made,” WNC President Chet Burton told the Appeal Tuesday morning after testifying in front of a joint Assembly and Senate committee. “These are great young men and women but, at the end of the day, I’ve got to look at the school as a whole.
“I have no funding. Nobody now will be hurt.”
The only current players affected by the decision are the ones who are redshirting. Burton said between the baseball and the softball program, there are about 50 students involved.
Shutting down the programs will save the college more than $400,000, according to Burton. Last year, Leah Wentworth (softball coach) and D.J. Whittemore (baseball coach) were told their programs would be funded through the 2017 season.
Rumors have swirled around the programs for years because the funding is directly tied to the school’s budget which is decided by the state lawmakers. The school’s budget has been cut for the past six years. Still, the two coaches were surprised and disappointed by the decision.
Whittemore, whose team has won four RegionXVIII championships and three Scenic West Athletic Conference and Western District titles in addition to three NJCAA World Series appearances, still had not informed his team as of right after Tuesday’s game. Whittemore told his assistant coaches immediately after the 15-6 win over Sierra College.
“What I was told is that the Bridge funding didn’t come through,” Whittemore said. “You’re talking about a million dollars there.”
Wentworth had already informed her players of the school’s decision.
“They were all upset about it,” she said. “Some more visually than others. If some of our freshmen feel like they want to go somewhere else, we’ll support whatever their decision is. This is a strong group of girls. We have 18 freshmen (this year). We have a young team. They won’t be affected. We want to get the word out about this. We want to get community support and fight for it. I feel like we were somewhat blindsided (by the decision).”
“Last year there was a budget committee established to try to find areas we could cut. I knew it (money) had always been a concern. I know the president met with a lot of different groups. He (Burton) is good with money, and I’m sure that he looked everywhere and did what he could to keep the programs going.”
Whittemore wasn’t sure if the school would keep the programs even if they were self-supporting.
Helaine Jesse, a former vice president at WNC who now lives near Seattle, began the effort to establish athletics at the school in 2002. She was understandably upset with the decision to disband sports.
She questioned the savings the college would realize by shutting down baseball and softball, noting WNC receives state funding for each student enrolled in the programs. Jesse also noted baseball and softball students have always been excellent students who would graduate from WNC.
But she said she also understood the budget difficulties the college faces, noting the loss of bridge gap funding, a funding formula designed to account for the needs of Great Basin College and WNC. She noted without that funding, those schools’ budgets are small enough as it is.
“I understand that their budgets are cut,” she said. “The problem is the funding formula, No. 1.”
Jesse said she wished the decision would have been put off until at least after the legislative session, but she also said she understands it’s easy for her to second guess what is a tough decision.
“It’s easy for me to say what should be done,” she said.
Still, she made her feelings clear when she said, “I don’t think it was the right decision, personally. I think it’s a shame. I think it’s awful.”
Jesse remains close to the baseball program, making trips to Carson City each spring to serve as WNC’s public address announcer during home games. She also continues to donate to athletics at WNC.
“I put my money where my mouth is,” she said.
“It’s really a disappointment,” said Mayor Bob Crowell. “Baseball here is a nationally recognized team. Athletics may not be necessary but it enriches the school.”
Part of the reason both sports cost so much is WNC has never been able to get into a California Community College Athletic Association conference, which would significantly cut down on expenses because all of the travel for away games would be done via bus. “If we were in a California league, we would still be able to have a program,” Whittemore said. “You get turned down four or five times and it gets disheartening. I’m told that California schools won’t let their members spend state money to take trips outside the state.”
Sierra coach Rob Wilson said he didn’t know about that rule.
“We have had teams go to Iowa and other places for tournaments,” he said. “We had to get permission from our president for the trip.”
WNC and other schools in the Scenic West Athletic Conference are allowed to give scholarships. California schools are unable to do that in the CCCAA. Whittemore said he would have given up the scholarships if he’d had been allowed to compete in a California league.
“I’m very thankful that I’ve gotten to be the baseball coach here,” he said. “The administration has been very supportive over the last decade.
“I’ll do the same thing I’ve been doing, which is apply for jobs where I have the opportunity to support my family. I’m not looking to leave and I’m not in a hurry to leave. If I have the opportunity to coach (here) next year I’ll be excited to do it.”
What is affected by the school’s decision is the incoming freshmen.
“We have already signed 17 or 18 kids,” Whittemore said. “We now have to let them know, and we’ll release them from their letters of intent. If they want to come for just one year that’s great. This was the biggest recruiting class we’d ever had. A lot of effort goes down the drain.”
With a wealth of freshmen on the current Western Nevada College softball roster, Wentworth was only looking to sign a few players for the 2016 season. She has already signed a player from Oregon and one from Utah.
“We don’t have many scholarships to hand out since the team will only be losing five sophomores,” Wentworth said. “We have some other people on our radar.”
Nevada Appeal staff members Geoff Dornan and Charles Whisnand contributed to this story.