The Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) Executive Committee has a new president for the 2021-2022 academic year. Ben Schears, President of Northwest Tech, began his term during the conference’s annual summer meeting in Garden City in July. "I've had the joy of working around the Jayhawk Conference for the entire duration of my career in some form or fashion and have no hesitation in saying we are in the top JUCO conference in the country," said Schears. "The success of the conference is largely due to the efforts of our past and present conference commissioners and colleges working together to create an environment where students can be successful in the classroom and competition."
As it’s more commonly known, the Jayhawk Conference itself has a long-standing and successful legacy of competition dating back to its founding in 1923. As the conference approaches its centennial anniversary, one of the areas where there has been incredible continuity and stability is in the role of the Conference Commissioner. To date, there have been only eight individuals who have served in this role, and since 2018 that has been Commissioner Carl Heinrich. “It has been an honor for me to serve the 21 schools of the KJCCC,” said Heinrich. “The success of the conference over the years has been due to the presidential leadership of all our schools. The opportunity for our student athletes to get a quality education and an opportunity to continue in sports has been what the KJCCC is about.”
Some might say the 2020-2021 year was one for the record books - both for having successfully completed competition during a global pandemic, but also for the visibility of the conference on the national stage. “Surviving COVID last year and the conference winning six national championships is a tribute to the administration, coaches, and players,” said Commissioner Heinrich. “We are very proud of them.”
Looking ahead to the conference's goals for the coming year, Schears highlighted a few areas of focus, not the least of which was continuing to deal with the implications of the pandemic. "Last year was a significant challenge, but our coaches, athletes and referees did what needed to be done," said Schears. "As we head into this year, although we are still dealing with COVID-19, we have several new tools in the arsenal, including lessons learned, new opportunities for vaccinations, and the commitment from our colleges to reach the finish line successfully."
With conference competition already underway in several program, Schears and Heinrich are both looking forward to a strong year for the conference. “I am excited to work with Ben this year as he serves as President of the KJCCC Executive Committee,” said Heinrich. “He brings in a wealth of experience that will continue to allow our conference athletes and programs to grow and remain consistent.”
Northwest Tech is moving up the national graduation rate rankings according to a recent report published by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Almanac, an annual publication produced by The Chronicle of Higher Education, provides national insights on data and trends throughout higher education. The college has maintained steady success with graduation rates, and this year Northwest Tech was ranked #20 among 851 two-year publicly-funded colleges in the United States. The new ranking places Northwest Tech among the top 3% in success rates in the nation.
“We are excited about our ability to maintain high graduation rates, and it serves as a reflection of the commitment by our faculty and staff to provide pathways and support for our students to reach graduation,” said Northwest Tech President Ben Schears. “We are small, responsive, and provide a personalized, hands-on experience for our students that larger institutions simply cannot deliver.” Schears indicated the small campus and classes, combined with the high amount of contact time students have with faculty members is the real key for the college. “When students walk down our hallways, we know them and often know aspects of their personal story. If they miss class, we are willing and able to reach out and see why,” said Schears.
According to the latest Almanac, Kansas public two-year colleges had a total of three institutions in the rankings – all of whom were Kansas technical colleges: Flinthills Tech (#1), NCK Tech (#9) and Northwest Tech (#20). “Kansas technical colleges have incredibly high success rates and frankly, we’re very effective at the work we do,” said Schears. “Our role is to develop skilled labor for a hungry workforce, and it is great to see that reflected in national graduation rankings.”
With the Northwest Tech softball season just wrapping up, two Goodland natives are officially taking the reins of the program. Kaitlynn Raile, Assistant Coach for the 2020-2021 softball season has been has been appointed to the Head Coach position while Athletic Director Rory Kling will be stepping into the role of Assistant Coach. “I’m excited to see our new coaching staff grow the program,” said NT President Ben Schears. “It’s a great opportunity to promote solid employees into positions and knowing they will grow and see success.”....
Northwest Tech has named Jay Bradley to serve as the 4th men’s basketball coach in the program’s history. Bradley, a Wichita KS native, will return to the sunflower state as the Mavericks work to build a competitive team in a dominant KJCCC Jayhawk Conference. “We are looking forward to welcoming Coach Bradley to the Northwest Tech team,” said Athletic Director Rory Kling. “Experience on the court as both a coach and his work with ProSkills EYBL, will help him recruit the needed talent to be able to compete in the Jayhawk conference.”
Coach Bradley has already hit the ground running to recruit incoming student-athletes for the 2021-2022 academic year. “It’s an honor to be named the Head Coach of this program,” said Bradley. “Northwest Tech immediately made an impression on me by showing the pride they take in their school success and the community.” The Mavericks are coming off a 3-18 record for the prior year and are looking to position the program for success. “We had several great conversations with Coach Bradley leading up to this point,” said NT President Ben Schears. “We feel he is a guy who is not afraid to jump in, work hard, and put in the effort to build a winning program.”....
Northwest Tech is pleased to announce the launch of collegiate Women’s Wrestling at the college, with competition beginning in the Fall of 2021. The move comes following a decision at the March board meeting as the college works to strengthen enrollment and increase female student-athletes on campus.
“We have discussed adding the program for a few years, but with the recent decision by the NJCAA to recognize women’s wrestling as an emerging sport the timing was right to make the move,” said Athletic Director Rory Kling.
Northwest Tech is no stranger to women’s wrestling, as it was a club sport during the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 academic years. “We are excited to bring the program back and provide an additional opportunity for student-athletes to earn a degree in a high-demand and high-wage field of study,” said Kling.
Women’s wrestling is on the rise all across the country. According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association website, the number of women wrestling at the high school level has grown from 804 athletes in 1994 to well over 21,124 by 2019 – and that was as of two years ago. Even while participation has increased, opportunities for female wrestlers in Kansas to compete at the collegiate level in-state are few and far between. According to the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association website, there are only five private NAIA colleges and universities in Kansas with women’s wrestling. “High school programs have grown rapidly in Kansas and all around the Midwest,” said Northwest Tech President Ben Schears. “This is an opportunity for us to be among the first in the state to meet the growing demand and provide an equal opportunity to compete.”
The creation of the women’s program will be a great addition to a highly successful NJCAA Men’s Wrestling program at Northwest Tech. The men’s program is currently ranked 9th in the nation and has already produced three national champions, eleven All-Americans, and has several nationally-ranked wrestlers heading to the national competition in late April. “We want to see the same success, talent, and skill with our women’s program as we have with our men’s program,” said Wrestling Head Coach Chris Guillot. “Our goal is to develop high-quality student-athletes in the classroom and on the mat.”
Both the men’s and women’s programs will be under the guidance of Head Coach Chris Guillot and Assistant Coaches Lelund Weatherspoon, Ramico Blackmon, and Ben Kritsonis. “Our coaching staff are the right people at the right time to get this off the ground,” said Schears. “They have the vision, skills, and mindset to get the program started on the right foot.”