Community colleges provide a plethora of opportunities for traditional and non-traditional students alike. These two-year institutions offer fast, affordable higher education to high school graduates who are not ready for the university
and older students looking for a new direction in their career path
. One element of community college that is often overlooked is the ability for students to play sports at the junior college level. From football to women’s softball, many campuses across the country provide the chance for students to participate in the sport of their choice for fun, competition and even a possible career.
Benefits of Sports at Community College
The addition of a robust athletics program at community colleges offers a host of benefits to students, as well as the school. While these programs are not traditionally big money makers for the colleges, the advantages offered may make the cost of the programs worthwhile to many college campuses.
David Mollahan agrees. The president of Marion Military Institute told the Times, “It’s beneficial to higher education. Our programs, I think, are worth it.”
Although some in the community college arena lament the cost of such programs, particularly at a time when budgets are getting tighter and tighter, Raymond Staats, president of Gadsen State Community College
told the Times, “It’s not as costly as people think, and there are some tangible benefits.”
Community college sports offer a sense of community on a campus
where that can be hard to find. Most community college students are adults with other professional and job responsibilities that prohibit them from spending additional time on campus. Few schools offer on-campus housing
, which further isolates students from one another. However, a basketball, volleyball or football game is the perfect venue for bringing students, faculty and community residents together to cheer on a common cause.
Sports also offer an education opportunity to students, providing life-learning lessons on the field that they may or may not be able to discover in the classroom. Sports underscore the value of hard work, persistence and good sportsmanship through both the wins and losses. Athletics provide the fundamental value that hard work, drive and pushing to the limit will help you attain goals you may never thought you could achieve in the past. Those lessons carry students into all aspects of their personal and professional life long after the academic years are over.
Benefits for Students
In addition to the many benefits athletic programs offer to schools and communities as a whole, participation in sports at the community college level also provides a host of advantages to the students. According to the State College of Florida website, these programs offer students the following:
- More Time to Play – Athletes at the community college level often find they enjoy more play time than they would at a four-year school where the pressure is greater and the first two years are usually spent sitting on the bench.
- Scholarship Opportunities – Many community colleges not only offer athletic opportunitie, but they even pay top players to play for them. In fact, two-year colleges offer scholarships to a higher percentage of athletes than most four-year schools, upping your odds that you can get financial support for playing the sport you love.
- Quality Programs – Athletes who choose to play for two-year schools do not sacrifice much in terms of the quality of coaching they receive and competition from other schools. In some cases, community colleges even enjoy bigger crowds at games than some universities.
- Transfer Options – For athletes who are serious about going pro, transfer to a four-year university is an option. While some athletes have moved to the pros right out of community college, others find that the transition to a four-year school offers them better exposure and recruitment opportunities. Even athletes who are not interested in going pro can further their education in the major of their choice with a transfer to a four-year program.
- Room for Improvement – Athletes who want to play at the college level but are not quite ready for the competition at a four-year school may find that community college play allows them to hone their skills and get the physical form necessary to compete at a higher level. At the same time, they have the opportunity to earn academic credits that will put them ahead when they are ready to transfer to a four-year institution.
There are many reasons why serious athletes might choose to start their college-level athletic careers at a community college. With quality staff and plenty of competition from nearby schools, the skills and training learned at a community college can prepare athletes for many different academic and professional paths in the future.
What to Play?
The sports available at community colleges vary greatly from school to school. Some community colleges are well known for a booming athletic program, while other schools may cut back in this area due to budget constraints or a focus on academics. As a general rule, the National Junior College Athletic Association lists the following sports for male athletes:
- Cross Country
- Ice Hockey
- Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field
Women may also enjoy a wide range of sports at the community college level, including:
- Cross Country
- Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field
While the list of opportunities is a long one, it is important to check with the school you are interested in to ensure you choose a community college that provides the sport you want to play.
Who Oversees Community College Athletics?
Most states offer an organization that oversees athletics at community colleges within that state. Washington and Oregon have combined their governance over 35 community colleges in these two states by forming the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges
in 1946. There is also a national organization that promotes sports of all kinds at the community college level and ensures consistency among the schools. The National Junior College Athletic Association was founded in 1937 in Fresno, California, by a handful of community colleges that wanted an organization to oversee community college athletics at a national level.
The organization has grown and evolved over the years, surviving a World War, financial hardships and restructuring. In 1953, the organization adopted the “Statement of Guiding Principles for Conducting Junior College Athletics.” In 1956, the association added statistics and rankings for community college football programs. Over the years, the organization has continued to add sports programs to its scope and continued to structure divisions that allow for tournament play of many of the sports they oversee.
Today, the National Junior College
Athletic Association is considered the primary governing body for community college sports nationwide. It is also the second-largest governing body of college-level athletics, behind the National College Athletic Association (NCAA). Each year, this association sees as many as 60,000 student athletes from 525 member colleges participate in 28 different sports. Updates on community college sports competitions can also be found at the NJCAA website.
The Representation of Women at the Community College Level
While it appears that there are many sports opportunities for women at the community college level, based on the list of available sports programs listed above, there is concern that women athletes may be underrepresented on this collegiate level. A recent report in the New York Times
explores the issue of female athlete shortages at two-year colleges across the country. According to the article that highlights the issue at Los Angeles Southwest College
, where two-thirds of the student body is female. However, the large female population only account for one-quarter of all the athletes on the campus.
The Times asserts that the demographic makeup at Los Angeles Southwest College
is representative of many of the two-year schools across the country. Schools in this category are consistently failing to provide sufficient athletic opportunities for women under Title IX, a federal law that bans sexual discrimination in education. Many schools offer a range of athletic options for men, but may only provide a single sport for women. Some schools don’t have female athletic opportunities at all, claiming budget shortages or lack of interest from female students for their deficiencies.
Despite the obvious difference between men’s and women’s athletic opportunities at many schools, community colleges often escape scrutiny because their athletic programs are not as high profile as the ones at four-year universities. There is hope that a larger influx of high school graduates into these campuses might change that trend, ensuring the women receive more equal access to athletic programs.
“While some of our states and regions have seen the handwriting on the wall, many are still sitting in the dark,” Karen Sykes, former president of the National Junior College Athletic Association, told the New York Times. Sykes added that it was “only a matter of time” before community colleges would be held up to the same standards of equality as other institutions of higher education.
Jaime Lester, an associate professor at George Mason University who studies gender issues, agrees that providing athletic opportunities to women is critical for community colleges. Lester told the Times, “It’s crucial to hold these democratic institutions – these bastions of people’s colleges – up to that level of scrutiny. If we don’t hold them up, why should we hold anyone else up?”
Community colleges that have had difficulty recruiting and maintaining the interest of female athletes argue that women in community colleges tend to be older and have additional family responsibilities outside the classroom.
“Sometimes they’re not motivated, they may have a child
,” Henry Washington, the former athletic director for Los Angeles Southwest College
, told the Times. Washington said there were years when he served as athletic director that a woman’s basketball team would begin the season with a roster of 12 players, and then dwindle to five or six players by the end of the year.
However, the benefits of sports, which apply to both men and women, inspire many to continue to push for more women’s athletic programs at community colleges across the country. Bill Hamilton, the athletic director for Pensacola State College
in Florida, told the Times, “The kids down here, they are trying to crawl up on that first ledge of success in society’s eyes. The more people of either gender that you get into athletics, I think you help society tremendously.”
How to Succeed in Community College Athletics
For student athletes who have decided to begin their postsecondary athletic careers at a two-year institution, Sports Force has some words of advice:
While sports might be your passion, it may or may not be the occupation that supports you after college. A sound academic foundation is essential to the success of any student as well. Use your time in community college to ramp up to the rigors of collegiate academics and collect credits that can be transferred to a four-year university
if you decide to further your education.
Some students begin college without the physical size or strength to compete in athletics at four-year institutions. These athletes may find that community college offers the perfect opportunity to develop physically, while honing skills that can take them to the next level in the sport of their choice.
Show Your Commitment
Participating in sports at the community college level will demonstrate your commitment to four-year universities. You can use these two years to showcase your dedication while fine-tuning your athletic abilities to prepare for the next athletic tier.
Community college often offers a budget-friendly path to postsecondary education. By enjoying lower tuition rates for the first two years of school, you can then take your savings, as well as the athletic and academic skills you have honed, to the four-year school of your choice.
Athletics are an important part of many students’ lives at any level of education. Students who choose to begin their postsecondary academic careers at a community college will be happy to find they don’t have to put their athletic prowess on hold during those two years. With plenty of quality programs to choose from, playing sports in community college is a wonderful way to make the most of your college experience.