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RANGELY I While Colorado Northwestern Community College athletic teams use their experiences on the court, field or arena to hone skills and spur on improvement, the teams’ community efforts speak to a different kind of drive.
Sometimes it’s expressed as CNCC athletes showing support to their counterparts at Rangely High School, cheering them on at home games.
Other times, students meet specific needs as they pitch in for community-wide events like Septemberfest and help to run recreation center programs.
The impetus to help can extend over months, like the CNCC volleyball team’s biweekly reading program at Giant Step Preschool and Child Care Center.
Almost always, the motivation behind the effort is twofold: to strengthen ties between “the college on the hill” and the community and to teach student athletes that what they do now, within and outside of their sport, will shape them for life.
The themes are ones CNCC coaches have approached in different ways.
“It’s important for our young women to know how much this community supports us financially and with the support they receive in the stands,” said volleyball head coach April Sanchez. “Athletes helping in the community learn not only about their talents but also the gifts they’re able to give back.”
The elementary education major, for instance, who participates in the Giant Step reading program, may come to understand relatively quickly whether her major is a good fit, Sanchez said.
Some efforts, like a Jan. 25 food drive coordinated by the women’s basketball team and two-year college honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), remind students of the connection between the college and a small town. The drive, held during the first home game of the new year, produced nearly full stands and five boxes of food for the Rangely Food Bank.
“I’m from a small place and I think these kinds of activities are important,” said first-year women’s head basketball coach Aundrea McCormick. “We need to be more of a positive influence in the community.”
McCormick said that since that first game against the College of Eastern Utah, she has increasingly noticed townspeople’s faces among those of students and staff. She hopes the trend bodes well for tonight’s “Pink Out” home game against North Idaho College, where the women’s team will wear and sell $15 T-shirts to benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund for breast cancer research. The fundraiser lasts throughout February.
Although organizations like PTK have been working in the community for years (the honor society’s monthly “Rangely Reads” literacy event has been a town staple for a decade-and-a-half running), the college’s athletes may be engaging townspeople more this year than ever before.
How that has happened varies.
Some coaches build on connections they’ve already established, like men’s basketball head coach Adrian Hayes’ longtime partnership with the Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Parks District (WRBM). Several athletes on the men’s team helped coach the rec center’s boys’ basketball program throughout January.
Then, on Jan. 30, during the halftimes of CNCC’s games against Snow College, the men refereed showcase games between the boys’ teams.
“The men’s team helping us out with basketball was huge,” WRBM aquatics/recreation director Camilla Kennedy said. “I hope that’s something we can do every year. It got the little boys more excited and, when that happens, they get more out of it.”
Sometimes, teams find ways to help that extend beyond their sport, like the women’s softball team attending and donating to Aveahna Klein’s chili dinner fundraiser in December and planning to give blood at Kathy and Ian Kottenstette’s Bloodmobile drive in March.
Just as often, though, it makes sense to connect to people via the thing athletes know and love best: their sport.
Maybe that’s why the volleyball and softball teams host intensive clinics at little to no cost to participants, or why Sanchez’s team is planning a Special Olympics event in Rangely on April 27.
“I think for me, the understanding of small towns is that everyone is interlinked, whether you realize it or not,” Sanchez said. “And with our campus being up on the hill, away from the town, we need to get down into the community to engage with people.”
Above all, the events let community members become familiar with students whose drive goes beyond athletics and even academics at CNCC.
“If we can keep getting this much response out of the community, that would be great,” women’s basketball team captain and CNCC sophomore Jasmine Thomas said. “The food bank and these kinds of events are a good way to let people know who we are.”