PARK HILLS – Homegrown talent could potentially provide a sturdy foundation in the emergence of four new programs within the Mineral Area College athletics department.
The school announced on Monday that men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams will begin NJCAA Division III competition in the 2018-19 academic year.
As stated in a press release: “Mineral Area College anticipates that the addition of the four sports will bring between 20 and 40 new student-athletes to campus. Each of the teams will use the Mineral Area College campus to practice and compete.”
Division III status prohibits athletes from receiving any athletically related financial aid. In contrast, the volleyball, baseball and basketball programs at Mineral Area compete in NJCAA Division I, which offers tuition, fees, books, housing and meals.
With several powerful high school programs spanning the region, the Cardinals could benefit by keeping local talent closer to home.
“We had some discussions starting originally in the fall, and there was definitely more of a push recently to boost our enrollment, as well as offer more opportunities for local student-athletes,” Mineral Area athletic director Mike Overman said. “By going into NJCAA Division III, we feel that we’ll be able to accomplish both of those goals.
“We do have student-athletes in the area that we feel like we may be losing out on by not offering a sport like cross country or track and field. There has some been discussion in the past about adding other sports at Division III.”
The track and field expansion for the Cardinals will have a reduced capacity in the near term, focusing mainly on distance running rather than throwing and jumping events.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily looking at building a [new] facility,” Overman said. “The idea behind offering track and field as well is more incentive for cross country runners to be able to participate in something during the spring. We would only be looking at distance events for track and field. For those, I think we would continue to train on the natural layout of our campus.”
Mineral Area has entrusted its new programs under the guidance of head coach Steve Davis, who built Potosi into a recognized power with seven cross country and two track and field state championships during his 26 years there. He also guided Viburnum to a state cross country title in 1986.
“He’s a veteran coach from the area, and has been around the cross country and track scene for a long time,” Overman said. “Once we got closer to [the programs] possibly being finalized, we reached out to him, and he definitely wanted to be involved.
“He has so many connections all across the state of Missouri, not only with high school coaches, but also with four-year universities. I think he’ll do a great job of moving our student-athletes on if they want to continue to participate after MAC. He’s hitting the ground running.”
Mineral Area will find itself isolated on the NJCAA landscape. The nearest Division III programs in cross country are located in Region 4, which comprises the far northern portion of Illinois.
The Cardinals will be seeking inclusion at events of much nearer proximity, hosted by non-NJCAA member institutions.
“We don’t necessarily have to compete against other community colleges. That would be great if there were a bunch of other schools in Region 16 that offered cross country and track and field, but there isn’t right now,” Overman said. “I think there has been some discussion at other schools about going the same route as us. But right now, we’ll probably compete against NAIA and NCAA schools at some of these meets, most likely in the St. Louis area.”
While Mineral Area likely inherits a direct path to the national postseason for cross country, its runners may be required internally to achieve a particular standard before being sent to compete at that level.
“As far as postseason competition goes, since we are the only Division III program in Region 16, it’s my understanding that we would automatically qualify for national meets,” Overman said. “In the past with golf, when we didn’t have a district to compete in, Coach (Don) Huff would put individual performance parameters on the season to decide whether his teams should qualify.”
The most recent national cross country meet was contested in Westfield, Mass.