JCCC closing nationally-acclaimed track, cross country programs

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Sports programs that have reached national acclaim are closing at Johnson County Community College after the spring season is over in May.

JCCC confirmed to 41 Action News it will no longer have a track and field or cross country program after the spring season.

JCCC boasts one of the only competition level tracks in the metro area. As part of the school's transformation process, it will remove it.

Right now, anyone can walk or run on it. 

"Every day I see someone on the track, when I'm parking at school there's someone out there," said JCCC runner Ray Mitchell.

Right now, other community and young runners practice and compete on the track 

"Once it is removed, I'm not sure what a lot of these youth programs are going to do," said Coach Phil Groves. "I think part of our job as a community college is to support the community."

High schools practice on the track, such as the nearby St. Thomas Aquinas.

"It's a great place for us to practice relay handoffs," said Coach Justin Wrigley of St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas' athletic director is looking for a new place to run relays since tracks like that are hard to come by. They potentially could wind up time-sharing with another school.

"I'm worried about what it could do to our numbers. that could convince kids to do other things, they could do right after school," said Coach Wrigley.

The college said a rule was changed by the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference that allows community colleges to give more in scholarships to student-athletes.

JCCC said it felt in order to be competitive with its seven other sports, it would have to increase its budget by $250,000.

Instead, it decided to "right size" its athletic department, according to VP of Student Success, Dr. Randy Weber.

"We didn't feel we had the resources to maintain that level of competitive balance for all sports," said Dr. Weber.

That included removing the school's track and field program, along with cross country for the 2018-2019 school year.

That will impact students like Karli Smith, a sophomore on a full ride pole vaulting scholarship.

"To hear it is going to be discontinued is pretty upsetting. It's sad for me," said Smith, who said the freshmen students would have loved to come back.

The program has seen national champions and All-Americans in its 32 seasons.

The programs can provide around 76 students scholarships. However, this year, team numbers dropped to just over 20 since the students were told this would be the last year for the programs.

Students said that leaves young college-bound runners looking other places than JCCC.

"I know a lot of kids interested in going here, who want to go here. Now they can't go here," said Smith.

When the college rips up the track in summer 2018, it plans to add new fields for softball, soccer and baseball. 

Weber said they get more rental requests for those fields than the track.

Construction is expected to be done by fall 2018.

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