Nebraska colleges using sports to attract more students
Story and photos by T.J. Henning, NewsNetNebraska
Nebraska state college enrollments don’t match the University of Nebraska-Lincoln but that may change as new sports programs are being added at some state colleges to attract more students.
Small college officials say sports are being added so students can keep playing sports they competed in during high school. Midland University has added shotgun sports and an ice hockey program this year. “There is a market of kids around here, and in western Nebraska, that wanted to get a great education and continue doing something they are passionate about,” said Midland Athletic Director Dave Gillepsie.
Midland University now has 25 total sports compared to the 22 offered at UNL. 728 of the 1,192 students enrolled at Midland are involved in an athletic sport.
“Certainly there was a lot interest once we announced the addition of the hockey team, even though we won’t be starting until 2014 with hockey,” Gillespie said. “We’ve had a lot of calls from kids interested in the hockey program. The shotgun sports team is already in place here but it’s not as big as it’s going to be or where we want it to be but there has been a lot of interest as our coach has been across the state.”
This year Doane College added men’s wrestling and co-ed equestrian. Doane’s enrollment has increased by 8-percent over the past year and school officials hope with the two new addition of the two sports will help continue their growth for enrollment.
Former Olympian Athlete and coach lands at Midland.
The Midland shotgun sports team hired Bret Erickson as their coach who is a former four-time Olympian and former coach of the United States National Shooting Sports Team.
Because Erickson is the coach, that is why freshman Zach Womack made his way from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Fremont, Nebraska.
“It’s the only reason why I came to Midland,” Womack said. “Brett use to be my Olympic coach when I was on the junior Olympic team. He told me he got the job up here and was starting a team and I was all for it.”
Womack said he had never heard of Midland before and “wouldn’t have come here if they didn’t have a shotgun sports team.”
The team will practice off site about 15 miles away from campus as they are not allowed to bring their guns onto campus. Gillespie mentioned that the shotgun sports team can be a bit expensive with all the ammunition costs but feels the tradeoff is worth it.
Doane equestrian team partners with local farm.
When deciding on a new sport to add, Doane Athletic Director Greg Heier settled on one he thought would provide students with a great opportunity.
“We felt that there would be interest in a competitive equestrian team with all the horsemanship events that go on in the area,” Heier said. “We felt that we would be giving students a great opportunity and helping the school meet its enrollment total.”
The equestrian team will partner with Thunderstruck Farms a local farm owned by Jeff and Tricia Brown. Tricia Brown will be their head coach and will provide the horses and equipment for the team. The equestrian team won’t begin until the 2014-15 year.
Soon to be largest YMCA in the United States located at Midland University.
The Midland hockey team will play at an ice rink connected to the local YMCA. The YMCA located next to the campus is the second largest YMCA in the U.S. (Soon to be the first after the addition of an aquatic center) Students are able to use the YMCA as their recreation center.
Other local schools have added new sports as well. Hastings College added men’s and women’s bowling and which will start competing this year. They also added two new club sports in archery and shotgun sports. Both of these will also be competing this year.
Gillespie and Heier are fine with the number of sports they offer as of now. Doane recently thought about adding bowling but, Heier said, “the lack of bowling facility right here in town would have been more of a detriment to the recruiting efforts.”
At Midland Gillespie may already have his next sport in mind to bring students to the campus.
“We’re always looking at opportunities that could present themselves. The YMCA is building an aquatic center and swimming might be something we look at in the future.”