Imagine for a moment…
It’s a humid June evening in Overland Park and you’re driving by the track at Johnson County Community College. As you pass by, you see hundreds of Johnson County youth, ages 6 to 18, participating in many various activities. On the track, there are groups running sprints. On the field, they are throwing javelins and another group is at the shot put ring. On the long jump runway, there are kids waiting in line for their turn to jump. Finally, across the street on the cross-country course, several girls and boys are on long distance runs.
Now picture an early morning in July. As the sun rises over the track, there you see coaches with about thirty young kids. It’s a youth track and field clinic. The coaches are teaching basic sprinting drills and providing these kids with some of their earliest lessons on how to coordinate their developing limbs and move their bodies effectively. Some of these children are participating to learn skills that will improve their soccer or baseball skills. Some are getting their first ever experience with sports. All will leave with smiles on their faces and the building blocks of new motor skills development.
Now, it’s a Saturday morning in October. As you arrive to go for a jog on the JCCC cross country course, you are surprised to find there are about 750 high school athletes and hundreds of parents gathered for a cross country meet. High School teams have come from all over the KC metro to JCCC’s campus for this meet. Soon, you see and hear the thundering herd of runners soar over bright green grass and pass though a canopy of colorful fall foliage.
Jump to a Friday night in January. It’s cold outside, so you decide to see what’s happening at the JCCC indoor track. You can’t believe it when you arrive and the place is packed. It is buzzing with over 400 college athletes participating in various events. Throughout the evening several hundred spectators make their way in and out of the facility as they watch their friends and family members compete.
How about a weeknight in February? You come back to the fieldhouse and what do you see this time? While a group practices soccer in the center courts, a large group of youth athletes ranging from 8 years old to about 14 are training on the indoor track. Most are running. Some jump and some throw. Awhile later, as the young kids leave, a group of high school athletes from all over the metro begins arriving. They are meeting with one of the JCCC track coaches to improve their throwing, jumping and sprinting before the high school outdoor track season begins.
Finally, now it’s a beautiful spring day in April, on the outdoor track. Throughout the afternoon, several groups of college athletes are laying it all on the line. The throwers are out for hours chucking varying hunks of metal around the field. Then the distance runners arrive and begin grinding out 20 quarters. Later the sprinters and jumpers show up and begin their training. As they are leaving the track a group of about 100 or more high school kids shows up and begin their practice.
Just imagine if Johnson County Community College could be the center point for such a vibrant and active community like this. What if I told you that everything I just described has been happening at JCCC for years now? What if I told you a vision of an even more vibrant community than this is possible?
Everything that I just described is from direct experiences I had as a coach for the JCCC track and cross-country programs. We worked to forge relationships with one of the largest and most successful youth track clubs in Johnson County – the Johnson County Comets. We created a winter training group where youth could meet in the JCCC indoor track facility to get out of the freezing temperatures and train. We had a second winter training group for high school athletes to prepare for their outdoor seasons. We hosted youth track and speed development clinics throughout the summer. We hosted multiple indoor season meets for youth, high school and college athletes. These meets would draw hundreds of participants. St. Thomas Aquinas utilized our outdoor track facility for their highly successful program to train. The college played host to multiple cross country meets each year. Oh, and lest I forget, the JCCC track and cross-country programs were pretty successful too!
I would argue that the track and cross-country program at JCCC was the most immersed in the community of any of the athletics programs at the school. I would argue further, that the community needs JCCC to be a leader in track and field much more than any of the remaining sports. The sports that will remain at JCCC all have vibrant youth scenes with significant financial backing. Baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and volleyball are well-supported sports in our country and parents pay up to thousands of dollars a year for their children to participate. Track and field on the other hand, doesn’t have so many high-dollar parents and despite being the most highly participated sport at the high school level, it is on the whole, severely underfunded. Therefore, it is a sport, which is in great need of innovation and leadership.
What it could be…
Johnson County Community College is uniquely positioned to provide that leadership. As of today (until they go forward with plans to rip up the outdoor track) JCCC is probably the only junior college in the United States that has an indoor track, outdoor track and cross country course all on its own campus (I’ve been all over the country and seen dozens of junior colleges and have yet to find another who has this). These facilities, along with the school’s location in an urban setting and being a junior college rather than an NCAA institution all conspire to produce a situation whereby JCCC could be an innovator for the sport and benefit the college and community at the same time.
In Canada, track and field has a far more vibrant system than in the United States. There is good reason for this. First, they see the value of track and field as the foundation for all other sports. Second, they have created systems, which grow the sport from the ground up and have done it as part of their University systems. In the United States, it would be difficult for most Universities to model the Canadian system due to affiliation with the NCAA, which has created rules, which for the most part prohibit universities from utilizing their immense resources to grow sports at the youth level. This would not be the case with JCCC.
Being a part of the National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) rather than the NCAA means that rules would allow the college and its coaches to have interaction with youth and high school athletes via a loosely affiliated club. Because of this, JCCC has the opportunity to model itself off the Canadian University Intercollegiate Athletics and Club Athletics system. Essentially how this works is the University plays host to a track club, which provides opportunity and coaching for young athletes in the community.
Though the club is officially a separate entity, it creates a symbiotic relationship between the college and the community. The coaches from the college can assist with the club and are able to use their knowledge and expertise to connect with and help youth and high school athletes. The club can involve additional youth and high school coaches who connect with the college and ultimately help to feed athletes into the collegiate system. The club can use participation revenues to make donations to the college program or set up scholarship funds awarded to club athletes who choose to attend the college. The college can host large club level track and cross-country meets which can draw over a thousand athletes in one day and can result in thousands in profits from entry fees, gate fees and concession sales. In this way the club assists the college with revenue streams. The college can also charge the club a rental fee for the facilities, which would be paid for as part of club registrations. Having a consistent rental income can help significantly with long-term facility upkeep costs.
In my time coaching in Phoenix, I have had the opportunity to interact with the Altis Elite Training group, which has rented the track facility at Paradise Valley Community College for several years now. Not only has Altis brought great financial benefit to the athletics program via significant facility rental contracts, but they have provided our coaching staff an unparalleled opportunity to learn from some of the best coaching minds in the world, and enabled us to see some of the most elite athletes in the world train (several of which are former junior college athletes). I have had the opportunity to interact with coaches and athletes from Great Britain and Canada where club track and field systems are vibrant. The systems in these countries bring together youth, high school, college, post-collegiate and masters athletes to create a vibrant and self-sustaining community, which pursues lifelong wellness through athletics. America needs a system like this. The seeds of this type of system are planted in places like JCCC with facilities and programs which have been heavily invested in by past administrations, boards and ultimately community tax revenue. There is no doubt that the program at Johnson County has had a significant reach into the community. It is regrettable that the investments made by the community over a 32-year period seem to be for nothing because of the ill-thought out decisions of a few. There is no doubt that with some creativity and the right leadership, Johnson County Community College could be a leader and innovator in track and field and cross-country for years to come.
Every single person who walks the JCCC Track on March 10th, or who writes a letter to the JCCC Board Members is a vote for the vibrant community JCCC Track has represented and the vibrant community it could continue to become in the future. Join us.