SHERIDAN — Athletes who planned to compete for teams at Sheridan College or Gillette College in the upcoming school year will not have a chance to play at the Division I level of the National Junior College Athletic Association locally.
Faced with the need to cut nearly $4 million from its annual budget, Northern Wyoming Community College District President Dr. Walter Tribley has taken action to cut the district’s entire athletic department, which would amount to $2.8 million in annual savings. The cuts come as entities across the state look to reduce costs due to declines in revenue and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The college district’s board of trustees declared a financial emergency June 18, and the cuts quickly followed, though the budget proposal has not officially been approved by the board, which will meet Wednesday.
The announcement regarding the cuts was made to staff Thursday. Tribley said the delay in an official public announcement occurred because he wanted to ensure a conversation took place with each affected staff member before the decision became public. The last meeting with staff took place Thursday afternoon.
Tribley also emphasized the decision was made as quickly as possible to allow athletes time to make decisions about their future.
“Our hearts go out to them,” Tribley said Friday morning. “Fall athletes have little time to be picked up by another team; we did try to make this particular decision as soon as we possibly could.”
The district president added the decision wasn’t easy.
“However, we simply cannot maintain a vision that includes full-time coaches, full-ride athletic scholarships coming from our general fund and expensive recruitment and travel,” he said.
Tribley said the long-term goal is to eventually bring back additional athletic opportunities with Division III teams. All athletic scholarships will be honored, but athletes will also be released from their commitments to the district.
Rodeo teams at both Gillette and Sheridan colleges will continue with significantly reduced budgets and the coaching position will be reduced to part time. Unlike other sports, rodeo does not operate under NJCAA and its divisions. Instead, community college students compete against students at four-year schools at the same events. A move toward Division III athletics, therefore, would not apply to the sport.
Tribley noted he remains optimistic that facilities like the Pronghorn Center in Gillette and the AgriPark in Sheridan will continue to be used. He credited the respective communities for ongoing support of the community college system, and expressed hope that support continue, even if athletics at the schools look different in the future.
The action by NWCCD will have ripple effects throughout the state and the region, as the district’s teams travel to compete. Laramie County Community College Interim Athletic Director Cindy Henning said NWCCD’s cut affects only scheduling changes. LCCC, which cut its athletics department for around 10 years in the early ‘90s, has no plans to follow NWCCD’s lead.
“I think that from that experience our college learned a great deal about what athletics actually provide to a community college,” Henning said. “It’s not just about students competing, but how we’re able to bring some diversity onto our campus. Our student athletes are really involved.”
She also mentioned an increased fiscal asset in student-athletes without full-ride scholarships paying for housing and meal plans on campus, which helps the overall budget.
“I’m very sad to hear that they’ve made those cuts and really feel for the student-athletes,” Henning said. “They were working their way through COVID, which is unprecedented, and then to lose their sports really suddenly. I feel really bad for everybody, the coaches, the athletes and the colleges themselves.”
Casper College officials also indicated their commitment to the school’s athletic programs.
“Casper College remains committed to continuing our strong tradition of collegiate sports, and is looking forward to bringing back our student athletes in volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball and rodeo,” said Chris Lorenzen, director of public relations. “In addition, we are very excited to kick off our inaugural season of men’s and women’s soccer.”
He added Casper College continually monitors expenses “to ensure the financial benefits of enrolling student athletes as well as the student life and student experience benefits of our athletic programs remain sustainable.”
Tribley said, though, that quick fixes to financial concerns will not help the college move forward.
“We need ongoing, sustainable funding,” Tribley said.
Wondering whether funding will exist year to year for any particular program — whether athletic or academic — will not provide the stability students require, he added.
Attempts to reach Sheridan College coaches for comment were unsuccessful, with any responses referring The Press to the college’s public relations team.