Marshall Column: Swender's vision for GCCC athletics
When Herbert Swender was announced as the new president of Garden City Community College nearly 18 months ago, there were many things we immediately knew about him.
First, he had a vast wealth of experience at the community college level, previously serving in the same position at Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas.
Second, Swender had a background in athletics, having coached golf at Allen County Community College in Iola. He grew up in Chanute, which is home to Neosho County Community College. He had a strong academic background, as well, both as an instructor and an administrator.
Swender made it clear following Monday's press conference announcing the new athletic director at GCCC, Dennis Harp, that the future is bright at the college, both athletically and academically.
"I think getting Dennis Harp is a great accomplishment for Garden City Community College," Swender said in an interview with The Telegram at his office on campus. "We want to grow athletics through participation and we want students to be engaged with activities, whether they are athletics, music, or any other academic program. That's what we want to provide to the students and to the community."
In his first few months on the job, even before he took the GCCC reins full-time on July 1, 2011, Swender made some tough decisions.
First, after both Steve and Andrea Gorton resigned their men's and women's soccer coaching positions, Swender assessed the future of both programs. Deciding that the women's program, with a roster dotted with Garden City and Kansas high school athletes, was on good footing, he elected to retain that program. The men's program, though, had more than 20 of its nearly 30 roster members from either out-of-state or out-of-country. National Junior College Athletic Association rules were soon to be implemented that would limit out-of-country athletes to just four, thus making it more difficult for the Busters' men's soccer to be competitive. Only Garden City, Liberal and Dodge City have boys high school soccer in this part of the state, thus the number of available quality players is limited.
It opened the door for Swender to resurrect the men's golf program, absent since the early 1990s. In just its first year, the Busters golf team competed at the NJCAA nationals and had an All-American in freshman Will Paulsell.
"Those were situational opportunities," Swender said of the soccer and golf program decisions. "The purpose that the soccer program was put in place for was not where it was headed. The program was successful, and thus you'd like to find reasons to put it back in at some point. I like to think of it as a suspension of the program and not the end of it."
Swender said that any and all ideas for GCCC athletic programs and facilities will be put out on the table for discussion and consideration, especially now that he has his athletic director in place.
"What does the community expect from us?" Swender asked rhetorically. "What does the community want? There can be a lot of pride in the college through athletics and activities and we want to explore all of those possibilities."
Without being specific, one gets the idea that future considerations will be given to facilities, including evaluating all sports and their needs, and then finding funds to meet those needs.
"Whether its music, volleyball, football or any other activity, once we get staffed-up, which is where we are now, we want to reflect what the program needs are," Swender said. "It could be fields, courts, training room to study halls. Every issue is on the table. What we do in the off-season is just as important as in-season. Student housing, we'll put that on the table, too."
In today's competitive world — both academically and athletically — Swender believes much of a college's success is based upon having contacts throughout the country with Division I universities.
"The whole process of recruiting is all about who you know," Swender said. "It's hard to recruit and stay up with everybody, but we've got proof right now about how important those connections are to recruiting. Finding talent is a development business and I think Dennis Harp's connections puts us in a position to be competitive out there. We're making a full commitment for our students and athletes because we have a responsibility to them to prepare them for the next level, both in and out of the classroom."
One interest of note in Monday's press conference came when it was revealed that Harp had played basketball in Texas for former GCCC athletic director Dennis Perryman. Swender said he did not become aware of that connection until after they had completed the interview process with Harp.
"We had nothing but high commendations from his (Harp's) references, but Dennis (Perryman) never called me up to tell me that he knew Dennis (Harp). It's just a small coincidence."
It is abundantly clear that Swender has a vision of where he wants to take GCCC, both athletically and academically. The selection of Harp will go a long way in determining where that road will lead.
One thing is for certain, however, and that is the fact that Swender is not afraid to make the tough decision to move forward. That's what leadership is all about.
Let's hope that GCCC continues to benefit from the leadership thus far displayed by Swender.
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.