A group of former athletes is coming together to try and reverse the college’s decision to end the Track and Field and Cross Country programs.
The decision to eliminate the programs and remove the track on campus is a part of the Facilities Master Plan that was announced in 2016. The group not only disagrees with the decision but they also took issue with the way it was made.
“We did not feel that there had been any discussion about the issue that involved either the students on campus or the larger community in Johnson County and we felt as though it was because people didn’t know about it,” said Brian Batliner, an alumnus who both competed and coached at the college.
In order to start a discussion, Batliner and three other alumni, including Nick Cole, started a campaign to save the track. As part of the initiative, the group started a website as well as a Facebook event.
These alumni feel so strongly about saving the programs because of the opportunities they believe it creates within the community.
“There are tons of youth clubs and coaches in this area who coach a lot of very young athletes who would love to stay in this area, continue their education in this area and ultimately stay in this community and better the community,” Cole said. “If you remove those programs from the community you now force those kids who could be potential future leaders of this community to go somewhere else. You might be losing out on some superstars of the next generation and that can be said for the removal of any program.”
On March 10, the group will try to unite the community and show what the program has meant to the area. They are doing this by hosting “Walk the Track”, an event that will bring together those who have been affected by the board’s decision.
“The event is somewhat symbolic but it’s an opportunity to show the … impact that we feel the track and field and cross country programs at Johnson County Community College have had and can continue to have,” Batliner said.
The effort is ongoing and the group is doing what they can to convey their message to the college.
“We have gotten a limited response,” Batliner said. “The college seems to be very firm that the decision has been made and they are moving forward without the track program.”
Cole echoed a similar sentiment.
“It was apparent today that they were willing to hear our stories but are not yet ready to waver from their decision,” Cole said. “Going forward, we’ll continue to push our efforts and our stories and our research on to them and hopefully help them to see value in these programs and ultimately reverse their decision.”
Regardless of the school’s response, the group will continue working to show the value of the 32-year-old program. They believe the running programs are not only beneficial to young athletes within the community, but also to the college.
“They’ve stated numerous times that they want to continue to focus on a smaller number of sports and be better at those sports,” Cole said. “Why not continue one of your most successful programs that you’ve ever had at this college? If you want to be better at a smaller number of sports why would you scrap one of your most successful programs?”
A potential increase in student fees is one of the college’s main reasons to discontinue the program. According to a December report by KSHB, maintaining the programs would have required a $250,000 increase in the college’s budget. This explanation has caused the group to raise a few more questions.
“Well if student fees is the number one issue then why are we just discussing track,” Batliner said. “Maybe we shouldn’t be supporting any athletics at Johnson County Community College anymore.”
The group also believes that students should have been given a chance to voice their opinion and vote on a potential raise in tuition rates.
“If the answer is no then I would be okay with moving on from that decision,” Batliner said. “But the students weren’t involved.”
Until the group feels like these questions have been answered, they will continue to fight the decision and show support for a program that has had a profound impact on not just the college, but the community as a whole.
“They have already removed golf and they have already removed tennis,” Cole said. “They just tore up the tennis court. Where does it stop is the question. Does the college value athletics? It’s a very simple question, ‘does Johnson County Community College value athletics?’”
*Managing editor Margaret Mellott contributed to this report