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Times change, so must HCC's basketball program

December 11, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

A decade or so ago, I remember going with my family out to the Hagerstown Community College athletic complex and watching the Hawks' men's basketball team square off with Allegany in front of a thousand or more fans, back when the two teams were competing for more than just Maryland JuCo and Region XX honors, but also NJCAA Division 1 national honors.

I think I'm pretty safe in saying those days are gone forever - and I think even the people in charge at HCC would admit that.

The Hawks, for what it's worth, are still a good junior college team, and I have nothing at all against the current players or coach Kenny Keyes, who I've known since I was a student at HCC. But when I covered the Hawks' game against Montgomery-Takoma Park last Monday, I counted 53 fans in the stands five minutes before tipoff.

Isn't it time for a change?

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Aside from a few loyal and passionate fans, there is little interest in the Hawks right now - even though they're still very successful. The lack of interest is understandable. It's pretty hard to rally the community to go see a team when only two of the players graduated from area high schools.

There's a lot of good high school talent playing in our coverage area, kids who aren't going to be given scholarship offers at four-year schools and deserve a chance to continue their careers at the college level while getting an education.

Wouldn't it make more sense to open HCC's doors - athletically and academically - to them? Isn't that part of what being a community college is about?

There was a time when recruiting the best athletes available and going after the national spotlight was acceptable. That was a time when the stands were close to full and there was real, widespread interest in the team.

Now, the stands are nearly empty, and it simply makes more sense to give local kids their chance.

The Hawks can still be competitive, especially if they drop down to Division II, where they wouldn't have to worry about facing Allegany - a true national program - come playoff time. And who knows? With more local players in the fold - players who the community has followed through their high school careers (if not junior basketball leagues) and have a vested interest in - it's possible the Hawks could build up fan support again.

Or look at it this way. The Hawks could keep recruiting better talent from outside the Tri-State area and post winning records in front of 50 people a night, or they can recruit from within the area, perhaps drop down a division, and even if they still only play in front of 50 people a night or maybe struggle to finish .500, at least kids from within the community are getting an education.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me. And if HCC needs someone to lead the process, I even have the perfect canidate -- Marlys Palmer. After all, recruiting local talent and playing at Division II has worked pretty well for her women's team over the years.

Now, a couple quick hits:

  • If Michigan defeats USC in the Rose Bowl, can you see the BCS supporters saying the system worked perfectly? Doesn't that just make your blood boil? How long is it going to take before a playoff - any kind of playoff - is finally installed?

  • I don't know who's going to win the Heisman, but I do know in past years, a significant number of ballots were turned in before conference championship weekend. So I won't be at all surprised if Sooners quarterback Jason White still wins. My vote, for what it's worth, would be for Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

  • Uh, is it too late to change my Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl pick? Just more proof that if I hop on your team's bandwagon, I'm running it right into the ditch.


Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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