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Future of sports in the SCV: Calm in the storm

COC is confident it can maintain tradition of athletic excellence during financial uncertainty

Posted: July 19, 2010 8:34 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The College of the Canyons football team celebrates its California State Championship after beating the City College of San Francisco 39-32 on Dec. 11, 2004. The Cougars were eventually named the national champions by JC Gridwire.

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The halls outside of the Cougar Cage are lined with trophies, plaques and photos of all the athletes and teams that have built the College of the Canyons' tradition of athletic superiority.

From baseball's 1981 state championship to the football national title in 2004 to Greg Herrick's 400th win as the head girls basketball coach, the Cougars are well-established among the community college elite.

But will that always be the case?

Ask the man who scored COC's first touchdown, was a recruit of founding-head baseball coach Mike Gillespie, was the architect of the football team's run in 2004 and is the Cougars' current athletic director and he'll tell you it is possible.

"I'm feeling good about it and I'm feeling good about how we've acclimated and adjusted to these tough economic times," says the longtime Cougar Chuck Lyon. "I think College of the Canyons is on the right track. No doubt in my mind."

These days, Lyon says the budget swirls in a fog of uncertainty that is "not year-to-year, it is literally week-to-week."

"It is so cloudy," he says. "We don't know what is going to happen. I'll be honest with you, it's touchy right now. We are on pins and needles a little bit."

But within that mystery are several factors that collectively form the foundation for confidence in the future - coaching, support and tradition.

Throughout the years, there has been no shortage of strong coaching on the campus at COC.

But those coaches can't stay around forever.

Therefore, fostering a consistent philosophy from season to season is essential, Lyon says.

Equally as important is surrounding head coaches with a solid supporting cast that is all on the same page.

"Obviously, there has been no increase for budget for assistant coaches for years, so for those assistant coaches, there has to be something else - love of the game and love of the community," Lyon says.

For golf, which has seen the majority of its success under one head coach, continued success may be secured in other ways.

Led by Gary Peterson for the last 30 years, the men's and women's golf teams have combined to win seven state titles and 23 Western State Conference championships.

According to Peterson, the golf programs' level of success is more than just coaching.

It also comes back to the Santa Clarita Valley and golf courses such as Vista Valencia, Valencia Country Club, TPC Valencia and Robinson Ranch, which have been home to practices and former Cougar golfers.

"Our alumni are all over the place in the golf industry," says Peterson, who turns 56 in September and says he doesn't have plans of retiring anytime soon. "They know how good they had it when they played at COC and they are very happy to reciprocate now that they are in a position of leadership in the neighboring golf courses."

Crediting the grassroots nature of athletics in the Santa Clarita Valley and the success of local youth programs, Lyon also says a home-grown talent pool will also keep teams successful.

Inevitably there will be an ebb and flow to the incoming talent-level, but that is the nature of all schools.

But the local scene also gives another glimpse at what the future may hold for COC athletics.

"What you want to do is match the community needs with the college," Lyon says. "What sports do they have that we don't? That's where you go next in my mind."
So which direction is that?

Lyon says tennis.

"I would think our next sport is women's tennis, at least," he says noting a desire for a men's team as well.

Remaining on the outside looking in would be hockey, despite its recent success in the American Collegiate Hockey Associations' third division.

This means that the hockey team, which is currently a self-supported club team, will not become under official COC governance anytime soon, especially with the lack of local competition.

"There is no possibility of that because who are we going to play?" Lyon says.

Admittedly, he adds that the biggest concern is simply keeping programs at the point.

But amid the budget ambiguity, Lyon lauds the administrative support that athletics consistently receives.

And according the COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, the administration is happy to give it.

"I think one thing our business community needs is employees to learn teamwork," she says. "There is no better place to learn teamwork than athletics."

Additionally, she provides assurance in the future.

"We have not had any discussions at College of the Canyons about eliminating programs, athletics or otherwise," Van Hook says. "We are certainly looking to creatively and effectively cut costs wherever we can, but at this point in time, we have not eliminated any programs."

The only way that programs would disappear is if they no longer receive state support.

But even xhen, Van Hook says the college has worked to hedge against such cuts.

"Our goal is, and always has been, to not rely totally on the state of California for the resources to have the best community college we can have," she says. "I think these are the kinds of times where the state funding gets so iffy, that we really see how very important it is to have multiple funding streams, multiple alliances and partnerships that you can rely on, so you can stay the course until things turn around."

So far, the community has been such a resource, not just financially, but in all around support.

And with the success of the past, Lyon says the Cougars' tradition gives assurance about the future.

As home to COC's achievements, the SCV has a vested interest in seeing that trend continue, he adds.

"Now it gets back to pride in your program, pride in our school and pride in your community," Lyon says. "That's where we're at. We know who we are. We're respected in the state, and quite frankly, in the nation. That is an extension of the Santa Clarita Valley. The people that run our community and the people that live in our community, I believe there is a lot of pride in the valley."

Ultimately, future success is achievable as long as COC continues to adapt, something the Cougars have the tools to accomplish.

"With the circumstance you are given, you adjust," Lyon says. "If there is anything about athletics and life, you make adjustments. What are you going to do to stay positive and competitive and to get the best experience you can get for your student athletes? That is what has to be the focus."



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