Darton athletics director Mike Kiefer
ALBANY — Darton State College athletic director Mike Kiefer confirmed to The Herald on Wednesday that the school is adding women’s lacrosse as a club sport — and there are hopes that the first junior college program of its kind in Georgia will turn into something more.
The school is currently interviewing candidates for the head coaching job, and the inaugural season could start as early as next spring.
And it’s a strong possibility that the new club could eventually become an intercollegiate sport, similar to the Darton wrestling program, which competed as a club for three years before being added as an NJCAA-sanctioned program in 2008.
“That’s kind of been the history of the college,” Kiefer explained. “They do it at a club level for a few years, and once it’s established they look at transferring. Once lacrosse is up and running and looks like it could be something that could work, we might look at promoting it to the athletic department.”
There are six four-year private schools in the state that already have lacrosse club teams, but Darton would be the first two-year school to offer the sport, which is becoming increasingly popular in northern Georgia.
“The interest wasn’t necessarily in the local level as much as it had to do with admissions and recruiting in the Atlanta area,” Kiefer said. “We see that the sport is growing exponentially in the Atlanta area, and a big part of the new lacrosse coach, other than coaching the club team, will to be a specialty recruiter.”
The women’s lacrosse team could also open up an opportunity for the Darton men’s basketball club team to graduate to the athletic program, balancing out the number of men’s and women’s sports at the school.
The Darton men’s basketball club team began two years ago and played a full schedule this past season against both club squads and NJCAA-sanctioned teams, including Region XVII rivals Albany Tech, East Georgia and Middle Georgia, and members of the team are hopeful that it will become a true athletic program in the coming years.
“It’s definitely started to be more active on campus and get more notoriety,” Kiefer said. “But it goes back to the challenge of funding and the Title IX implications of adding another male sport when we have a larger female enrollment. It would be hard for us to add another male sport without a female sport to go with it.”
And that’s where the women’s lacrosse program conceivably comes into play.
“Potentially, that could be one of the avenues that we could take,” Kiefer said. “That’s when we would have to look at if we have funding available and if we are following the Board of Regents’ new policies.”
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia oversees 35 colleges and universities in the state and recently passed new regulations about expanding, adding or changing athletic programs.
The new policy states that “operation of intercollegiate athletics cannot come at the expense of academic programs and essential activities at a campus or by diverting funds from other major campus functions.”
The new guidelines come after a 2012-13 athletics season where Darton piled up the bills by sending team after team to national tournaments.
Every fall and winter sport at Darton — women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving and wrestling — competed in their respective national tournaments, and each of the school’s spring sports are nationally ranked and likely destined for nationals appearances, which puts a burden on the athletic department’s budget in the wake of the Board of Regents’ new decisions.
“But the good thing about Darton is that we have had some steady increases in enrollment, so each of our students pays tuitions and fees, and a small part of that fee is an athletic fee, which is our primary funding,” Kiefer said. “Another part of that is fundraising. Our coaches deserve credit because they have done a lot of fundraising to offset those costs.”
Because the women’s lacrosse program is a club activity and the new coach will be responsible for recruitment of sports clubs and other student organizations, none of the funding for lacrosse will come out of the athletics budget.
“Maybe down the road if it gets established it might come over to us, but right now it’s a club sport and is going through the student activities,” Kiefer said.