Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on Western Nevada College intercollegiate athletics, which are being discontinued after the 2016 season.
Bethany (Henry) Herman wished there was a softball program at Western Nevada College when she graduated from Carson High in 2003.
But instead, Herman went to Feather River College in California to play softball. Herman said there were four players from Carson and six players from Douglas in 2003 year that went on to play in college that would have gone to WNC — if WNC had a program.
“When I went to college this wasn’t an opportunity,” she said.
And the opportunity won’t be there for local and other players after this season as WNC is disbanding its athletic programs after the 2016 season. So when WNC hosts Snow College in a doubleheader today beginning at noon at Pete Livermore Sports Complex, it’s going to be the final home games for the Wildcat softball program.
Herman is now an assistant coach with WNC softball, which replaced soccer at the school and began in 2009. She, WNC assistant coach Sam Herceg, and others have made the point without this program, many student-athletes wouldn’t have even gone to college — or are now going to head to California to keep playing softball at the junior college level.
“If it wasn’t for softball, they wouldn’t have gone to college,” said Herceg about some of the players on WNC’s team.
“For me it’s a crime,” added Herceg about the elimination of the program. “There’s something going on here that’s out of whack. I’m just sick about it.”
Herman noted the competition WNC faces in the Scenic West Athletic Conference is better than what she experience at Feather River.
“The level of NJCAA is far superior to California,” said Herman, referring to the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association, which includes the SWAC.
Herman also echoed Herceg’s thoughts when she said, “Some of them wouldn’t have gone onto college if it wasn’t for this option. Many had no college plans.”
When WNC was shunned by California’s community college athletic association, the only realistic choice for the school was to join the SWAC, a Division I conference.
But WNC only offers Division II scholarships, covering just tuition and some fees while the other Division I schools offer scholarships that also cover room, board and books.
So WNC has had to recruit players overlooked or not recruited as heavily as Division I schools, players Herman refers to as “diamonds in the rough.”
Herman said she’s thankful for the chance to coach at WNC.
“It’s meant everything to me. Especially being my hometown,” she said. “It’s been fabulous.”
Head coach Leah Wentworth joined the program in 2009 and has been the head coach since 2010.
“It is always our goal to get them to understand the whole student-athlete component,” said Wentworth and that philosophy has led to WNC’s baseball and softball programs regularly earning Academic All-American status.
Wentworth admitted it’s been financially difficult to operate the program and the financial burden in the end led to WNC dropping athletics.
Travel in the SWAC has been the biggest issue.
“I think the biggest obstacle we always have with the financial side of this is the travel expense,” said Wentworth, saying travel expenses typically run $40,000 a year.
Wentworth also said it obviously hurts the state provides no funding for community college athletics. But she said she still believes the program is financially feasible.
Carson High graduate Cassie Vondrak, who went onto play at Long Island University-Brooklyn and is now an assistant coach at Columbia University, said playing softball at WNC became the pivotal point of her life.
“I would not be where I am today without the help and support of my family, WNC, Leah Wentworth and the rest of her amazing staff and family,” Vondrak said.
Vondrak also credited the program for stressing academics. “At WNC, we were always taught we were student-athletes, where the student comes first always. This stayed true to me,” said Vondrak, who went on to earn a master’s.
Another former player, Jenny Rechel, from Fallon, said she looked up to the players at WNC and realized her dream by playing there.
Rechel also said the program’s emphasis on academics was invaluable to her. “Yes, I could have gone to school and still gotten an education, but my GPA wouldn’t have been as good as it was because I wouldn’t have put in as much time as I did with the homework and studying. I don’t like school when I’m just going because I have to go, but getting the chance to play a sport I loved growing up helped me stay on task — otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to play.”
Wentworth said the program coming to an end is obviously bittersweet. “It’s just unfortunate. But I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of it.”