Lake City college hopes to expand with basketball and cross country
LAKE CITY — When Lawrence Barrett took over as president at Florida Gateway College two years ago, the questions kept coming.
Would you be willing to bring back athletics? And if so, when?
Nine years ago, Florida Gateway College, then known as Lake City Community College, discontinued its athletic programs due to funding issues. But this fall, the school is bringing intercollegiate athletics back, launching men’s golf and women’s volleyball.
The Gateway College Timberwolves have been certified by the National Junior College Association of America on a probationary basis, but are not eligible for postseason play this season. The plan is for the school to add two more sports in 2018-19: men’s basketball and women’s cross country. Initially, Gateway College’s plans are to play nearby Santa Fe College in Gainesville and junior colleges in the Jacksonville area.
“It’s important because it brings in a new type of student to the institution that in the past would not have considered attending here, and we haven’t had sports here in almost nine years, nine years ago we were pretty successful at sports,” Barrett said. “But I’m looking at it more as a student activity retention issue and an attraction to have students come here. Of course, I want to win, but our students are students first and they are athletes second.”
Barrett said the combined startup cost for women’s volleyball and men’s golf is $75,000. Rebecca Golden, who has a background in Division II athletics, will serve as athletics coordinator, overseeing the two programs. Golden was promoted internally and will maintain her role managing camps and intramural sports at the school.
“We’ll gain back about $60,000 to $65,000 in tuition each year for those two sports alone and in addition, we’re going to be doing some fundraising through our foundation,” Barrett said.
Golden said she’s excited about the challenge of rebuilding an athletic program from scratch.
“It’s going to support our community so much, and to hear our community rally behind it and our college and our students, it’s just been exciting and has been fun,” Golden said.
Barrett said the decision to launch women’s volleyball and golf was done in part due to Title IX concerns (enrollment at the school is 65 percent female, 35 percent male; Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education) and in part due to the existing facilities. The Howard Center gym is still on campus and was refinished with a Boston Celtics-style parquet floor. In addition, Gateway College has secured an agreement with the Lake City Country Club to host golf meets.
“There’s a lot of volleyball talent here locally that have been going to other colleges,” Barrett said.
John Reger, a PGA golf professional and former golf coach at Saint Francis Academy in Gainesville, was hired as Gateway’s golf coach. Reger was a golfer and later golf coach at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.
“As a PGA golf professional, one of the things we’re tasked to do is to grow the game of golf and this is a wonderful opportunity to do that up in Lake City,” Reger said
Reger has signed four athletes, three from Columbia County and one from neighboring Suwannee County.
“The caliber of my first team is actually excellent,” Reger said. “All of them played junior golf or other sports, but they’re all great athletes.”
Richie Tang was hired from Oglethorpe University outside of Atlanta to take over as Gateway College’s women’s volleyball coach. Like Reger, Tang took a local approach to recruiting, signing the majority of his players from the North Central Florida region.
“The attraction here is that Florida talent is some of the best talent athletically,” Tang said. “That’s one of the things I wanted to make sure we can get, our region consists of five area counties, we have four of the five covered on our roster. So it was important to me to get local kids and then also we have two kids that were from out of our region. But it was important to me to establish a roster of Florida kids.”
Barrett says how much more Gateway College can expand in the coming years will depend on fundraising for facilities. Relaunching baseball, for example, would be difficult because the school built a library over the former baseball field.
“Our softball facility, which was top of the line in Florida nine years ago, is just basically an overgrown pasture,” Barrett said. “So it’s going to take a lot of resources and money to make that back up where it was. Those are the two long term (sports).”
Regardless of what future sports are introduced, Barrett wants the emphasis to stay on recruiting area athletes.
“We have the talent here and also the academic talent to attend here,” Barrett said.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.