Editor’s note: This continues a series of articles on Western Nevada College intercollegiate athletics, which are being discontinued after the 2016 season.
Anyone who has listened to them apply their craft know they have put their heart and soul into what they do. And now that it’s coming to an end, Helaine Jesse Morres and Chris Graham obviously don’t like what’s happening, but that doesn’t take away from the fact they’re proud of being part of something they feel has been special and are ready to move on.
Morres was the driving force behind the establishment of Western Nevada College athletics when she worked as a vice president at the school back in 2002. Once a skeptic of athletics at the community college level, Morres became so enamored with Wildcat baseball, she became the public address announcer for all of WNC’s home games at John L. Harvey Field. She now lives in Washington, but still makes the trek to Nevada to do the P.A. for every Wildcat home game.
For six of the past seven seasons, Graham has been at every game — home and away — doing the play-by-by for Wildcat baseball on Internet broadcasts.
So understandably, it was a hard pill to swallow for Morres and Graham when WNC decided to disband the baseball and softball programs after this season.
In 2002, Morres was instructed to do a feasibility study on having athletics at WNC by then President Carol Lucey, who had come from an institution that had athletics.
“We faced a lot of opposition,” said Morres, who played intercollegiate softball at the Universities of Nevada and Oregon. “I was skeptical at first.”
But with the help of those such as Steve Lewis, who co-chaired the athletic committee, and the Western Nevada College Foundation, WNC athletics began with baseball and women’s soccer, which was eventually replaced by softball. WNC began play in baseball in 2006.
Morres also had a hand in bringing in D.J. Whittemore to coach WNC baseball.
“Nobody knew who D.J. Whittemore was, knew who we had hired,” Morres said. But Whittemore has proven to be a successful hire, leading the Wildcats to a conference title in their inaugural season in 2006 and three JUCO World Series appearances in the 11 seasons the program has existed.
Whittemore also secured 400 stadium seats for John L. Harvey Field from Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia when that stadium was demolished. So stadium seats which sat fans who watched such events as the Phillies winning the 1980 World Series came to Carson City.
While WNC is dropping athletics, it’s beginning a club soccer program and the home field for the soccer teams is going to be John L. Harvey Field, something Morres understandably has a hard time accepting.
“It’s a baseball field, not a soccer field,” Morres said.
Morres admitted she immersed herself so much into the program, it led her to take over as the PA announcer. She takes a lot from what is done at SAFECO Field where the Seattle Mariners play near her home.
“For me, it’s lights, camera, action,” said Morres on her approach to games from the pregame music to how she announces to the music she plays during the games. “I’m so proud being a part of this.”
John L. Harvey Field at the base of the Sierra Nevada Foothills is symbolic of Morres’ efforts.
“That’s the hill I’m going to die on,” said Morres about her fight for athletics at the community college level. “But it was worth it. It’s worth it to fight for intercollegiate athletics at the community college level. The program is a legacy.”
When the school announced last year it was dropping athletics, Morres and Carson City businessman Jed Block formed the Athletic Foundation of Western Nevada in an effort to raise funds to save the program.
While baseball and softball programs have essentially been revenue neutral, the cost to run the programs has been the issue.
She said she thought she had an agreement in which the foundation would provide $150,000 a year and the school would provide $200,000 a year to keep the program going, but the agreement obviously fell through.
Morres admitted the financial burden of keeping athletics going was wearing on people.
An obvious factor has been travel. WNC initially planned to join the junior college association in California, but California community colleges wanted no part of WNC in its association. The Scenic West Athletic Conference welcomed WNC with open arms, but the travel in the conference has been the biggest financial burden.
Still, Morres maintains athletics at WNC is financially feasible.
“We could have worked it out,” she said. “I think if they really, truly wanted this program we could have made this work. I don’t think they have any idea as to what they’re losing because if they did they wouldn’t have let it go.”
So when the program comes to an end, Morres said, “It’s going to be heartbreaking. It’s going to be said to see it go.”
Morres said she’s thankful to so many, including her husband, Clark, for allowing her to take the time she’s taken to be a part of WNC baseball.
“For me life will go on, but that day will be tough,” said Morres about when WNC plays its final game. “But what a ride it’s been. We’re like a family.”
Graham echoed Morres’ sentiments about the loss of the program.
“The politically correct answer is you’ve got to do what you do,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
About what the baseball team can do before the program is disbanded, Graham said, “The last thing to do is take it all,” referring to winning the JUCO World Series.
But when talking about how he really felt about the program coming to an end, Graham said, “the candid answer is you can’t say (it) in the newspaper.”
Graham began full-time as the WNC play-by-play announcer in 2010 due in large part to former assistant coach Kevin Edwards who spearheaded the effort to have games broadcast over the Internet.
“This is the single most greatest thing for my broadcasting career,” Graham said.
During that 2010 season, Graham got to broadcast WNC’s four-game sweep of then No. 2 ranked College of Southern Nevada, which featured future National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper.
It was gratifying watching how then pitching coach Edwards had prepared his staff to hold Harper to going 3-for-23 during that series with two home runs and a groundball single to right field, Graham said.
He also had the chance to broadcast from Grand Junction, Colo., when the Wildcats advanced to the JUCO World Series in 2012.
“Probably the greatest event I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “It was just a great experience overall. You can’t say enough about what Grand Junction does for that event.”
Graham also added to another memorable moment when the Wildcats beat Salt Lake Community College to earn a berth in the JUCO World Series that year on Alex Schmidt’s game-winning two-run single.
Immediately as soon as the ball went into the outfield, Graham knew the Wildcats had done it, emotion coming over him when he stated, “We’re going to Grand Junction!”
“Hopefully, we’ll do it again (this year),” Graham said.