Northwest College has been due for positive financial news for some time now....
When athletic director Brian Erickson took the job about 19 months ago, he didn’t walk into an easy situation. Budget cuts in 2016 and 2019 had slashed scholarships and threatened the long-term competitiveness of Northwest’s sports teams. Furthermore, there were only two non-interim coaches on staff. Previously, different coaches had shared the load of athletic director duties as an add-on to their already full plate of responsibilities.
“I designed this expanded position to allow a significant part of his duties to collaborate with the NWC Foundation in seeking private support for athletic scholarships,” said president Stefani Hicswa through email. Flash forward to the present and, even under the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northwest athletic landscape looks substantially better. Next year for the first time in more than a decade, the school will have an increase in athletic scholarships.
“We’re not even where we need to be but were at the best place for athletics that we’ve been in for a few years,” Erickson said.
In 2019 Erickson helped set a one-year record in fundraising for the athletic scholarship endowment fund with around $286,000 garnered from a record 286 donors, with $400,000 also pledged for the future. With $1.1 million in the endowment fund today, it’s the first time in five years the fund grew over one budget cycle, Erickson said.
“We’re really working to make it last forever,” Erickson said. “(Money) stays in the endowment and continues to grow. During hard times the money will always be there.”
The Trapper Booster Club also now has one of the highest memberships in recent years with more than 400 members.
“Brian is also infusing energy into athletic competitions,” said Shelby Wetzel, executive director of the Northwest College Foundation.
Erickson said by offering a wide variety of ways for people to donate, he, Northwest College Foundation development manager Cory Ostermiller, and the rest of the Booster Club were able to achieve their numbers. This came in the form of increased in-game sponsorships and asking people exactly what they would like to be a part of.
“Just really bringing the community into athletics,” Erickson said.
This spring, the school will also be premiering The Trapper Dave Scholarship, in honor of longtime Trapper athletics supporter and manager Dave Fink.
“Trapper Dave has been a staple at Northwest for years and really a staple all over Powell,” Erickson said.
In February the school hosted a “Trapper Dave Night” in recognition of Fink, drawing a sold-out crowd at Cabre Gym. Erickson said in many ways the night was symbolic of the culture he is trying to develop at Northwest, building a new excitement for Trapper athletics.
“You couldn’t find an empty seat in the gym. It was what you want,” he said. “We just knocked it out of the park.”
There will be two scholarship awards given each year to returning Northwest freshman athletes to be used for the following school year. The awards were scheduled to be given out at the annual athletic banquet in April by Fink, but due to the pandemic, this banquet will be streamed online.
The Trappers also now have six permanent coaches for their seven sports. Women’s soccer remains the only vacancy at this time. Despite the improvements Erickson has made there is still much progress to be made as far fielding competitive teams. Only half the Trapper teams that completed seasons this school year posted improved records from the last year.
The one sport considered technically still in season is rodeo, which competes in both the fall and spring. The team took a slight step down from the previous fall but still finished a respectable second in the Big Sky Region. Rodeo’s spring portion of the season has been indefinitely postponed, but Erickson said there is still hope for a College Nationals Finals Rodeo in June.
“We’re taking this whole thing day-by-day, week-by-week,” Erickson said.
Even a talented new coach may take a few seasons to right the ship and bring about winning seasons.
The same goes for recruiting players. Often, better high school prospects have a few scholarship offers on the table. What it takes to reel in those high-level prospects is a proven winning track record and quality academics.
But with increased scholarships and long-term coaches, Erickson said there will be real dividends that come to fruition in the 5-15 year time frame.
Due to men’s soccer coach Ben McArthur taking the head coaching job at Casper College about a month ago, women’s soccer coach Aaron Miller shifted over to the men’s team for next season, leaving the women’s spot vacant. Erickson said he expects the position to be filled soon.
Northwest College’s classes finally resumed in an online format Monday after being on extended spring break since March 6. There will be no in-person classes at the school until at least May 11.
Although Erickson said the school has kept its dormitories open this entire time, many athletes home on spring break have not been able or chose not to return to the school. One of them is men’s basketball star Kyle Brown, who is from New York, an epicenter of coronavirus.
“We want to take care of them, if that means they’re on campus or going home,” Erickson said.
Erickson said athletes like Brown can finish the school year entirely online if need be.
Many other Trappers are international students who had flights canceled to and from Wyoming.
Recruiting also has come in some unusual forms over the past few weeks. The pandemic has eliminated all campus visiting opportunities for prospective students. He said the beauty of Park County is a definite selling point, so this doesn’t bode well for the school getting commitments.
“We know if we can get them to campus we’ve got a good chance at signing them,” Erickson said.
To overcome this hurdle, Erickson said he and staff have been sending lots of photos and videos of the campus’s facilities.
“A lot more time on the phone,” Erickson said. “I think our coaches have been doing a great job with the little time they’ve had to adjust.”
They have also been directing recruits to an online virtual tour of the school.
Erickson said if there is one saving grace to the unusual situation, it’s that every other school in the country is in the same situation.