LET THE GAMES BEGIN
UCC adds six new sports programs with more to come, but it’s not just about more fun and games. It’s about more students.
Story by Erin Wilds Photos by Thomas Boyd
The sports program at Umpqua Community College has been expanding at a rapid pace recently, and student athletes aren’t the only ones to benefit from the growth.
In the past year, the UCC Athletic Department has added to its offerings men’s and women’s cross country, obstacle course racing and wrestling.
Next spring, men’s and women’s track and field will be added, and the following spring UCC will begin fielding a baseball team.
The goal of expanding the school’s athletics offerings is simple: To bring more students onto campus.
“We added all of the new sports as enrollment initiatives,” says UCC Athletic Director Craig Jackson. “Declining enrollment is a big challenge for colleges across the country.”
In his three years as UCC’s athletic director, Jackson has overseen the rapid expansion of his program. When he arrived, the college offered only three sports — volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball. By 2020, that number will reach 12.
Jackson says selecting the sports to add involves estimating their appeal to both students and the community at large as well as aligning with already-successful local programs — such as Roseburg High School wrestling and Doc Stewart’s American Legion baseball.
Despite the strong community support enjoyed by those teams, there were no opportunities for athletes to continue participating locally at a higher level. The closest college baseball program is in Eugene; the nearest wrestling program is in Ashland.
Adding cross-country and obstacle course racing made sense for other reasons. The terrain on campus near the track and through the Southern Oregon Wine Institute’s vineyard area made an ideal spot for a new course and can be shared by the two sports, Jackson says.
Obstacle course racing, an endurance test that requires athletes to complete mud runs and navigate man-made barriers, was added for its potential appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, Jackson says.
“We thought it would be a nice niche that we could fit in and help us draw some kids that wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to compete otherwise,” he says.
Obstacle course racing is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., but UCC is the only school offering a scholarship in the sport. Last year, two Umpqua runners qualified for the OCR World Championships.
In addition to the new race course, UCC added a wrestling room, and track improvements are in the works. Doc Stewart’s home, Legion Field, will serve as UCC baseball’s home field.
Basketball and volleyball are getting upgrades, too, including a new gym floor and lighting, weight room improvements and new uniforms.
By spring 2020, when all 12 sports programs are up and running, more than 200 student athletes are expected to be involved, a significant increase from the 30 or so competing on campus just two years ago.
That growth, Jackson projects, will bring an estimated $3.5 million in new revenue to the community.
“Expanding our program is the equivalent of a jobs program,” Jackson says.
Adding more student athletes also means more participants in Champions of Community, the athletic department’s community service program.
UCC athletes volunteer several times in such projects as reading programs and field days for elementary students. This year, athlete volunteers will log nearly 2,000 hours of community service.
Jackson says it’s possible even more sports programs will be added.
“The first wave was successful, and the second one looks to be as well,” he says. “If it fits the needs of Douglas County and our campus, we’ll look at adding more sports.”