On a peninsula where softball is one of the strongest prep sports around, the region's only college may cut its own program.
Peninsula College officials announced last week the school may eliminate its softball squad and is considering adding a women's soccer team instead.
That's the word from athletic director Rick Ross, who along with other college officials is looking at what programs they want to keep, what they want to cut back on and what they want to change
"We started the budget process and planning (for 2010-2011) - that's what prompted this," Ross said. "We see what's working well, what's not."
What isn't working well, Ross said, is turnout for the college softball program. Despite strong seasons in 2005 (20 wins), 2006 (18 wins) and 2007 (27 wins), the Pirates are just 12-64 in the past two seasons.
Low turnout for the team and a dearth of out-of-town recruits indicate the sport isn't growing the way college officials had hoped.
"The average number (of players on the roster) is 11 for last nine years," Ross said. "You can't be successful with those kind of numbers. In the course of nine years, we haven't been consistently competitive."
College officials sent out notices to P.C. softball coaches and players earlier this month.
"I felt like I got thrown under the bus," said Peninsula coach Jim Cheney.
Cheney was Pirate coach from 2004-2006 before leaving the position to watch his daughter play college ball. He returned to lead the program in 2009. Peninsula went 5-28 last season with a young staff.
Cheney said current Pirate players are shocked by the possibility
that the team might not exist in 2011.
"They're devastated," he said. "We have to put it behind us. But it's hard to do."
Soccer team add-on?
Ross said the college is considering replacing the softball team with a soccer squad. The move is advantageous for the college in a couple of ways.
One, it keeps the number of collegiate athletic opportunities for female students even with those for male students as per federal guidelines (Title IX).
Two, a Peninsula women's soccer team can ride along with their male counterparts and play doubleheaders against other NWAACC schools.
In the NWAACC, 18 schools have both men's and women's soccer teams. Three (Green River, Lane and Yakima Valley) have only women's teams, while four (Peninsula, Pierce, Southwest Oregon and South Puget Sound) have only men's teams.
"It's possible that if we switched from softball to women's soccer, we could run that sport more efficiently," Ross said.
"Equipment-wise, soccer is less expensive," he said, noting the college already pays for soccer game prep costs for the men's team.
Softball requires field grooming and prepping, chalk, sand and paint plus other game-use equipment.
There's also a chance, Ross said, that Peninsula could see more interest in soccer than in softball. While the school offers and sees strong interest in both basketball teams, the Pirate men's soccer squad boasts 25-30 players per season while the softball team sees just 12-15 at a time.
"Right now we offer same opportunities, but the students aren't responding to the same level," Ross said.
The men's soccer squad also draws a number of out-of-area players. Last fall's men's soccer roster saw 24 of its 26 athletes from off the Olympic Peninsula, 13 of those out-of-state players.
Decision coming soon
Ross said the decision to keep or cut the program has to come before the school adopts its next budget, in May, but that the decision is likely to come much sooner.
"We're collecting data, getting feedback from parties involved," Ross said. "(We will) review all that and make a pretty informed decision. Jim (Cheney) has got to be recruiting for next year. If we're not doing softball next year, we've got to be recruiting for soccer. We can't wait for May."
Cheney said the program's precarious status already has affected the squad.
"We're falling way behind with recruiting," he said. "We've got recruits that want to come and visit and that's on hold."
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.