Already one of the most successful community college athletic programs in the country, Tyler Junior College added one more sport to its powerful arsenal over the summer.
During the 2014-15 school year, the Apache softball team will make its debut. The announcement had been expected for several months but was made official in July.
“Softball has always been a sport that has been intriguing and we knew we wanted to start sometime,” TJC Athletic Director Dr. Tim Drain said. “Even as early as five and a half, six years ago, when we decided to start women’s soccer; the choice was between soccer and softball, and soccer was easier to start because we had a facility, we had a field, locker room, coaches offices.”
“Here recently, (softball) got a little more attraction, and the board decided to go ahead with it,” Drain said.
Not only will softball be the sixth women’s program at TJC, to complement six men’s activities, but TJC is now one of 13 schools in Region 14 that features the fast-growing sport.
With the addition of softball, TJC now has a total of 11 scholarship sports. Only baseball does not give out scholarships due to the large number given to football. It is a welcome addition to an athletic program that boasts 49 national championships.
Drain said that soon after word began to get out that the sport was going to be added, he started receiving phone calls from possible recruits giving him their information.
However, recruitment was not the first step in the building of the program; hiring a coach was. That happened just a few weeks after the announcement of the addition was made.
From a qualified group of applicants, Nicole Dickson stood out and was officially named on July 29, 2013. The former Paris Junior College coach led the Lady Dragons to the school’s first-ever regional title and national tournament appearance in a women’s sport.
“The biggest factor for me (coming to TJC) is that it is the total package,” Dickson said. “It is in a great location with great programs and great facilities. It was a great move for me to make to one of the top programs in the country. It definitely is exciting to build my own program. I am very excited about the opportunity. Everyone has been so helpful with as far as getting the feel for things and things I need to be prepared for.”
A native of Monahans, TX, Dickson played collegiately at Howard College and Eastern New Mexico. She began her college coaching career as a graduate assistant at Hardin-Simmons University and then was an assistant at Howard for three years.
From there, she went to Paris, where she led the team to a 37-19 record, a regional title and a ninth-place finish at the national tournament.
“I like the fact that she has some experience in our region,” Drain said. “The last three years she has been to the national championship. She knows what it takes. She has that enthusiasm to build it from the ground up.
“My joke to all the applicants was that we aren’t at the ground floor, we are in the basement. She is going to do a really good job. I am highly confident of that. I have slept easy knowing I have someone that is going to come in here that can do the job.”
Drain’s reference to being in the basement stems from the fact that the school doesn’t have a field yet for the team to play on. The plan in place is to construct one at the Apache Woodlands.
The Woodlands is currently a group of portable buildings used for classes, but Drain said the fact that it already has a paved parking lot makes it the perfect location for the field to be built.
With a coach in place and a plan for a field on the table, the next step for Dickson is recruiting. She will also be teaching in the Health and Kinesiology Department while beginning to put the pieces in place for the inaugural season of Apache Softball.
“Right now, my biggest focus is on recruiting,” Dickson said. “I am looking for athletes who come in and compete and are great students with morals and values. We want to start the program out right, with students who are successful both on the field and in the classroom.”
“This is my dream job,” Dickson said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here. This is a great opportunity and one of my personal goals.”
Dickson’s first official day on the job was Monday and she already had a recruit on campus. Both she and Drain are excited about what the future holds for the team.
“Our expectations are pretty high,” Drain said. “I expect pretty good things out of that program pretty quickly.”
There have already been indications that softball is going to be accepted well at TJC. From Dickson attending a new-teacher orientation sporting a TJC softball t-shirt that gave Drain goose bumps to an elderly couple at a restaurant that he did not know telling him how glad they were that the school was getting a softball team; the excitement is there.
“It is going to be hard waiting a year,” Drain said. “It is going to be hard during recruiting, meeting the girls and knowing we have to wait a year. It is that exciting.”