They call it Senior Night.
The last home game of whatever sports season it is, a special ceremony honors high school and college players as their careers representing their schools end.
Except at junior colleges where careers only last an eye-blink two years. So it was Sophomore Night for the Northwest College men’s and women’s basketball teams Wednesday night at Cabre Gym.
What that means for the young people is that they are going out into the world, maybe to work, maybe to transfer to four-year colleges.
What it means for their coaches is a headache.
At no other level of sport, high school, where the athletes are inherited by living in the community, NAIA or NCAA, where the educational programs are built around a four-year plan, do athletes come and go so swiftly.
At Northwest, that means men’s coach Brian Erickson and women’s coach Janis Beal work around the calendar to woo student-athletes to lovely downtown Powell.
Two years in the college recruiting world is a revolving door. There is no time to rest, no time to take a break because roughly half the team walks out the door and disappears onto a new life path most every year.
Now you see them, now you don’t, athletes coming, athletes going.
“You’re always rebuilding,” Erickson said.
This was an unusual year for the Lady Trappers. There are 14 players on the roster, but only four are sophomores. You say recruiting life is easy for Beal this year?
“Then I’ll need 10 at once next year,” she said.
College recruiting is about convincing freshmen to come to your bucolic campus and stay for four years, players hopefully improving each year. This omits the one-and-done stars who populate rosters of the most exalted teams.
Development is a relative term in junior college.
“Sometimes they are just starting to come into their own and they are moving on,” Beal said. “But it’s part of what I like about this level. I like to see development.”
Erickson’s bench has been very crowded this year. There have been four redshirts in street clothes occupying chairs. So in all he has 17 guys on the team. Seven are sophomores and will be out of eligibility, but he guesses half the players won’t return for the 2017-18 season.
“We’ll probably have eight new guys,” Erickson said. “That’s just a guess. Some of them will be walk-ons. They’ll pay their own way. We’ll have tryouts in April and May. They’ll play pick-up ball.”
Generally, Northwest is more welcoming to Wyoming players than other Region IX teams, even those in Wyoming.
Some of those teams have a half-dozen-plus foreign players on their rosters. The Northwest women have two players from Brazil and the men have four Canadians and one player from France.
Remembering Northwest coaches have nearly non-existent recruiting budgets these players are an incongruous match. Erickson and Beal don’t fly to exotic lands to scout these players in their games.
Sometimes they get tips about players from trusted friends. Erickson has family in Salt Lake City and he takes a visit paid for out of his own pocket to scout between home-cooked meals.
“I try to always watch games,” he said.
One might think this is hopeless-case recruiting. But no. It turns out with the explosion of basketball’s popularity worldwide, there are capable and talented players from dozens of countries fantasizing, even begging to come to Northwest.
These players probably can’t locate Powell on a map, may never have seen snow or hiked in mountains, but they all want to play American basketball.
“You can get 10 emails at a time,” Erickson said. “I get phone calls, videos. I can’t keep up with them.”
Erickson isn’t sure how many new players he needs for next season or how many he will provide with roster spots.
But one way or another he is sure he will find them somewhere.