SMC bringing back cross country

DOWAGIAC — After a 25-year absence, Southwestern Michigan College unanimously approved to bring back cross country at a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The SMC Board of Trustees authorized the administration to pursue the return of a sport for the fall of 2021, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the Roadrunners’ 1981 National Championship.

“During our strategic planning process earlier this year, it became evident that our students, employees and community members were eager for additional ways to connect and bond in common ways, to create a ‘tribe mentality’ if you will,” said President Dr. Joe Odenwald. “This is a natural continuation of our heritage, and being very aware of the current pandemic crisis, we feel introducing a low-contact, outdoor sport is a responsible way to supplement our intramural and club sports opportunities for students and fans in the area.”

Under the direction of Ron Gunn, SMC built a powerhouse in cross country, both at the state and national levels. The Roadrunners, who were named after the Dodge car, not the animal, won 23 out of 25 Michigan Community College Athletic Association championships. Those included consecutive streaks of nine and 11 years.

The Roadrunners also won five national Junior College Athletic Association titles and three national marathon championships, which Dowagiac hosted on numerous occasions.

“I was shocked,” Gunn said upon learning the news about cross country returning to the school to which he came to originally coach football, but ended up coaching cross country and track and serving as Dean of Athletics. “I am glad they are bringing it back.”

Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees Chairman Tom F. Jerdon got the ball rolling. He, along with Odenwald, feels that athletics are a part of a well-rounded college experience. Plus, SMC now has the facilities for training its athletes better and for housing them on campus, officials said.

“SMC’s mission is to provide affordable access to high-quality postsecondary education, including the total college-life experience,” Jerdon said. “Competing for your school and cheering for your teams is certainly part of the college-life experience. With SMC’s incredible legacy of excellence in running and beautiful trails still used every day by the local community, I can’t think of a better sport for Roadrunner athletics than cross country.”

There are no junior college cross country programs closer than Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, while Western Michigan University and Notre Dame are the only local schools with a cross country team.

Jerdon said SMC is set up to draw from a large area for potential student-athletes.

“Because of Dr. David Mathews’ vision, SMC today has all of the components to consider this program, as we have the academic pedigree, pristine facilities, a modern student activity and fitness center, robust student life, the Carole A. Tate Teaching and Learning Center, and residence halls for nearly 400 students. Scholarships will be largely academically-based, and athletes will be required to live on campus. With the proper structure, it will be successful,” he said. “From an enrollment and financial standpoint, this makes sense because we are using our existing facilities, and we will be able to attract students that might otherwise be attending college elsewhere. Cross country is the least expensive of all sports to field and will add to our robust student body. Years ago, we also had many ‘walk-on’ runners who were not on scholarship.”

Odenwald agreed with Jerdon.

“We’re doing this in a thoughtful and intentional manner,” Odenwald said. “Cross country is very competitive in the state and nationwide, but there are not many opportunities in southwest Michigan to run at the collegiate level. We plan to offer scholarships to attract talented high school graduates who want to continue their passion here, as we do for band, choir, performing arts and academics. In the past, athletes may have looked beyond SMC for other opportunities, but we’re going to build strong men’s and women’s teams here.

I’m excited about this step, and I think the students, employees and broader community will get behind this effort. Our mascot is the Roadrunner. It is only fitting that we run again.”

Part of the NJCAA application includes community support for athletics at the candidate college. Community members can show support for SMC cross country by sending an email to roadrunners@swmich.edu.

 

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