Villa Julie makes its mark in sports, from the field up

April 28, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

Getting involved in the start of a college sports program can hold more than its share of challenges, as Tim Nichols discovered three years ago when he began coaching men's soccer at Villa Julie College, which recently gained NCAA Division III accreditation.

"Back then, we were still a club team," Nichols said.

"When it came time to play our first game against Goucher, five of the guys told me, 'I don't think I can play today.' Maybe it was stage fright, but when we got to Goucher, we were short a man.

"I'd played soccer at Towson High, and in recreation leagues. But, at 38, I was playing strictly out of necessity. I started on the wing, figuring I wouldn't have to run as much."

All of Villa Julie's coaches have similar stories to tell of trying to build teams from scratch. But they all take satisfaction in seeing their players make steady progress while interest from students, parents and the community continues to grow.

Villa Julie, situated in Green Spring Valley, has 1,750 students, including about 400 males. This year it has teams competing in lacrosse, soccer, golf, tennis, cross country, field hockey and indoor track. Plans are being made to start a basketball program next year.

When the school trustees decided in 1990 that a wider scope of sports would enhance campus life and serve as a recruiting tool for prospective students, they sought the advice of Dick Watts, who was instrumental in building the athletic program at UMBC.

Watts, a former lacrosse coach and now an assistant professor of physical education at UMBC, has proved invaluable in helping Villa Julie, a college with a modest sports budget, field teams in six sports.

"It's a much different world and a much slower pace than Division I schools with multi-million dollar budgets," Watts said. "You start with small expectations, just trying to get as many students involved as possible."

The job has fallen mainly to Carol Zimmerman, whose title is sports coordinator. She finds herself hiring coaches, recruiting, scheduling, planning transportation, finding off-campus training facilities and balancing budgets.

"The biggest problem we had at the start was fielding our men's teams," said Zimmerman, a former basketball player and track coach.

"We're mainly a commuter school, and most of our students hold outside jobs."

To date, victories have been few, but there are unusual incentives.

"Take track," Zimmerman said. "The boys and girls who first participated set school records no matter how fast [or slow] they ran."

Almost all of Villa Julie's coaches are part-time employees who have other full-time jobs. "We always tell them, 'You're coaching here for the love of it,' " Zimmerman said.

The "dean" of Villa Julie coaches is Sandi Stevens, an elementary school teacher who has coached the women's lacrosse team for five years and doubles as field hockey coach.

"We haven't won many lacrosse games, but we're getting positive feedback from rival coaches, players and referees," said Stevens, an All-America at Western Maryland in the mid-1980s.

One of her promising players is sophomore midfielder Kerry Coleman, a transfer from UMBC.

"It was too stressful playing Division I lacrosse at UMBC," Coleman said. "As soon as classes ended, I was practicing two or three hours a day. Make a mistake, and you ran laps. Playing here, you still want to win, but there's a lot less pressure."

Haswell Franklin Jr., who played lacrosse at Johns Hopkins in the early 1980s and was an assistant coach at Loyola College, has found coaching at Villa Julie "real challenging" with unexpected demands.

"It's like basic training," he said. "You do a lot more coaching here than at an established program. Some of these kids had hardly held a lacrosse stick before. But you get fulfillment watching them improve and even winning some games."

A number of outsiders still think of Villa Julie as a secretarial school or two-year institution. But it went co-educational in 1972 and became a four-year college in 1984.

"We're still at the grass-roots level, but the word is getting out," said Zimmerman, who said she hopes to join an athletic conference soon. "I'm getting new calls every day from schools interested in scheduling us."

Occasionally, a blue-chip athlete turns up unexpectedly with only financial aid as an inducement to enroll. "I've got one girl, [junior] Sarah Johnson, who was a county and state high school tennis champion," said tennis and golf coach Carol Williams. "And now that we've been certified for Division III, we're getting a lot more inquiries from parents and students about our sports programs."

Understandably, the coaches have learned to keep goals in perspective.

"Right now, our athletes are our best recruiters," Nichols said. "Tim Richardson, one of my soccer players last year, was injured and couldn't play. But he helped as a coach and in getting area prospects interested in our program.

"Dick Watts made it clear from the start that he wasn't interested in how fast we could build a sports dynasty. We all want to win, but the immediate goal is to have a program that grows from the ground up."


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