In Carson: WNCC baseball means more than the score to students, community
For the students of Western Nevada Community College, the addition of a baseball team two years ago was nice, but it was still just a team.
Then they started winning.
“When it started it was ‘OK, they are just a baseball team.’ Then they won a championship and they were ‘a championship team.’ Now, they are ‘a World Series team,'” said Dennis Mankel, outgoing president of the WNCC student government.
In its second year of existence, WNCC’s baseball team, the Wildcats, will advance to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday. Western Nevada plays at 7 p.m. in the 10-team double-elimination tournament.
“It’s just palpable, the support on campus. It’s rejuvenated this town and elevated WNCC and made people excited about going here,” said Helaine Jesse, WNCC’s vice president of development and external affairs. “We have been contacted by scouts all over the country expressing interest in our kids.”
But off the diamond, the team’s success is significant to the rest of WNCC’s students.
“There is a sense of pride in non-athletes to get to be part of the college that has this team,” said Hope Manzano, incoming student-government president. “I believe it brings spirit to the college. It gives us something to look forward to, not just the athletes but all of us.”
The reality of a top-notch baseball program actually started long before the team took the field. It began as two separate ideas on parallel tracks, one from WNCC president Carol Lucey and one from concerned resident Scott Rasner.
“Carol came from a university system in New York. She came from a school that had 19 intercollegiate sports. She knew what athletics, with a bent on academics, could do for a college. She put me in charge of forming a committee to bring athletics to WNCC,” said Jesse.
At the same time, Scott Rasner, uncle to Carson High School graduate and New York Yankees organization pitcher Darrell Rasner, began to push the college to add a baseball program.
An athletic development committee was formed. The committee conducted feasibility and cost studies, sent surveys to local high schools to gauge interest and attempted to select which sports the college would pursue.
“We sent surveys to eight high schools asking them which sports they would like to see. The top answers were football, baseball, softball, track, cross country and golf,” Jesse said. “We wanted sports that would have a strong community commitment because we would need to raise private funds to support the sports.”
The school chose baseball and women’s soccer as its first two sports teams.
In the 1970s, WNCC had a basketball team that competed in the Golden Valley Conference, a Division III conference based in California. When it came time to look for a conference to play baseball in, WNCC looked to its old allies.
“They said absolutely not. They said it was because of financial issues, but we think it was because they saw Northern Nevada as their recruiting area and didn’t want us ruining it,” Jesse said.
But the rejection was a blessing in disguise, because soon after, the Scenic West Athletic Conference came calling.
“It was a blessing, for baseball it’s a wood bat league and a Division I conference with strong baseball and soccer programs,” Jesse said.
The Scenic West as a Division I conference allows WNCC to offer athletic scholarships as well as afford students the opportunity to utilize the Millennium Scholarship and other types of financial assistance.
With that established, only two obstacles remained: Where to play and how to pay for the teams. It costs approximately $200,000 a year to fund the baseball program, which includes staff salaries, travel and equipment expenses. All of that funding must be raised through fundraisers and private donations.
“The committee of people has done everything to make this possible, they work to make sure these programs stay funded,” Jesse said.
The team plays home games on John L. Harvey Field, a $1.4 million stadium on the Carson City campus that was paid for in large part by an $800,000 donation from the Wingfield Nevada Group.
But, said Jesse, the program’s success wouldn’t have happened without coach D.J. Whittemore.
“He blows me away with the things he can do. The guy is brilliant. He recruited kids who no one was looking at, which just shows how important this program is,” Jesse said.
But what about the team’s chances in Grand Junction?
“I have to believe they are going all the way. There’s just something about this team,” Jesse said.