WLSC Rolls With the Times

The following is the third in a four-part series that takes a look at the current “Exciting Era” inside West Liberty State College athletics. Today we’ll take a look at how the school has benefited from advancements in technology.

West Liberty State College officials, whether it be those involved in athletics or academics, can’t say enough about the addition of the school’s brand new media arts center, which has helped bring about WLTV-14 (Wheeling Comcast Channel 14).

Athletics Director Jim Watson recently relayed a story about how he and school President Robin Capehart were on their way back to town from a business trip but got held up at Reagan National Airport. They fired up a computer and watched the first half of one of the school’s basketball games via another of their technology advancements: www.hilltoppersports.com.

WLTV-14 has shown all of the school’s football home games, plus all of the men’s and women’s basketball home games this season. They recently hired Reid Amos — a very familiar name in West Virginia Conference circles — away from Fairmont State to be, among other things, the ‘Voice of the Hilltoppers.’

”The quality that Reid brings to the broadcast is fantastic. We were very lucky to acquire his services and he’s far more than an on-air personality,” said Watson, adding that Amos is the school’s the director of media arts and will oversee many other ventures — in both athletics and academics — and, most certainly, when they intertwine.

”We have a lot of academic success stories within our athletic department,” Watson said. ”Women’s basketball, wrestling and softball are perennial top finishers in national grade point average competition for their respective sport. In fact, wrestling has won one.

”We need to do a better job of telling those stories — and we will.”

There are other technological avenues that have helped make life easier for WLSC administrators and coaches.

”Digital scouting. After every game, we upload to a server. We can watch those games. We were the ones driving that boat,” women’s basketball coach Lynn Ullom said. ”We were the ones saying technology is coming, why do we want to get in our cars and spend all that money when we can watch the games on our computer?

”It’s amazing how many coaches fought that.”

West Liberty has been able to do all of this despite limited financing, particularly as that relates to scholarships for student-athletes.

Not all schools in Division II, or even in the WVC for that matter, are created equal. West Liberty operates its athletic department with about half the scholarship availability of other fully funded schools in the league.

Dr. John McCullough, the school’s vice president who has twice served as interim president this decade, never liked that and helped create a focused scholarship program with the help of Financial Aid Officer Scott Cook and others.

This is a collection of mostly external dollars being pumped into each sport’s foundation account, along with some tuition and housing reductions and waivers. Wherever the money comes from — fundraisers, alumni, parents, other outside donations — it almost all ends up in scholarships.

”For us to compete at a regional level, or even at the conference level against some other schools, is truly a great success story,” Watson said. ”Not that money is everything because it isn’t, but certainly to compete for the better players today, we have to bring something to the table.”

They win because they have the right attitude.

”We’re limited financially. That’s the reality,” Ullom said. ”I learned a long time ago that we can either sit around and cry that we don’t we don’t have as much scholarship money as school A or B, or you can find a way to work around that.”

This is a universal feeling among West Liberty’s coaches.

”Here’s the one thing I told my staff when we took over. I’m never going to cry about what we don’t have,” football coach Roger Waialae said. ”What we have is what we have, and we’re going to go play with it. And it is my job and our job to work together to get that up to a point where we can compete for championships.”

In the end, West Liberty athletics are riding an unprecedented wave of success as a whole.

”Everybody was looking for a common ground and that’s for everybody to have success,” Waialae said. ”And I think it speaks for itself with what our teams have done this year and last year under limited circumstances with the amount of scholarships.”

One way to advance that march toward success is to be competitive in the area of facilities. These races are often as competitive as anything that takes place on a field or a court.

”I read a lot of (college sports) magazines,” Waialae said. ”One thing most of these magazines have in common is they say athletic facilities are the front door to your institution. They all say that.”

The Academic Sports and Recreation Complex has helped create something of a rebirth for West Liberty’s winter sports programs. In terms of recruiting basketball players, Ullom said it’s helped him win most ties.

The school’s baseball field — Kovalick Field — has undergone a complete facelift through a private donation. The tennis courts were completely redone a few years ago.

That leaves football and softball as the only teams playing in outdated facilities.

And that’s about to change.

In the works is a planned $6 million upgrade to the football field, beginning this summer, they hope, with the addition of synthetic turf.

”Worst case scenario: one more year on grass if we can’t hit our marks,” Watson said.

Because of the turf, they’ll no longer need the practice field, which will someday be turned into a state-of-the-art softball field, bringing those players back on campus after years of playing on town-owned property.

The idea is to tear out and rebuild the seating and press box area of the football field and start over. They’re also planning to build a track to circle the field. West Liberty officials want to make it an outdoor extension to the ASRC, with the potential of having commencement taking place outdoors in the spring.

Under the best case scenario, this will be finished by 2010.