On Jan. 16, roughly six months after she was hired as the first head coach of TJC softball, Nicole Dickson watched proudly as 16 members of the first-ever Apache recruiting class signed their letters of intent.
“It was more than we expected,” Dickson said. “We signed 17 players and out of those 17, we had 16 attend on campus. We were really impressed with it and I think it just says a lot about the campus and the community and how they are excited about softball at TJC.”
The signing ceremony in Wagstaff Gym was the culmination of several months of recruiting to get a team in place before the first season of the new sport gets swinging next fall.
That recruiting process for Dickson was a little different than most coaches. She didn’t have tradition, an established program or even a playing field to lure players to TJC.
What she had was the athletic success of the school and her own connections, history and influence. She used all of those to pull together an impressive first team.
“Even though we don’t have any facilities ready to go right now, if you just look around TJC’s campus we have the best facilities, junior college-wise,” Dickson said. “TJC is just doing all the right things with their athletic program.
“I’m not saying it is easy to recruit an entire team. But it was easier to recruit kids here because first of all, Tyler has a great community. We have more degree plans than a lot of junior colleges offer. My kids were really attracted to having those kinds of options.”
Dickson’s first area to recruit was East Texas, and she did well in that area with players from as close as Van. She said she then expanded her scope to the rest of the state and found several players from the Houston area.
Given the school’s proximity to other states, she reached out to players from Oklahoma and Louisiana. She even convinced three players from California to join her team.
Breawna McCraw, a pitcher/utility player from Colbert, Okla. made her decision to come to TJC because of Coach Dickson and the beauty of the campus. Catcher Amber Landry, from Ponchatoula, La. said it was her previous experience meeting with Dickson that persuaded her to pick TJC.
Dickson said her phone began ringing and her e-mail inbox started filling up from potential players when she first took the job and some even contacted her before that.
Pitcher Ashlee Gibson, from Burleson, met Dickson two years ago while playing in a select tournament in Colorado. After Dickson remained in contact with her, Gibson said her college decision was an easy one once the coach was in place at TJC.
“Ever since they announced they were starting this program, we were contacted by tons of kids from anywhere and everywhere,” Dickson said. “Tyler is a great location for recruiting.”
She added that the California connection comes from her tenure at Howard College in Big Spring, Calif. It was hard to recruit players from Texas to move to play in East Texas, so she had to recruit in California and Arizona.
One of her biggest pitches was the athletic success across all sports at TJC. The school currently has 49 national championships, consistently gets opportunities to host national championship tournaments and history has shown that new programs tend to have success almost immediately.
In 2008, Women’s Soccer Coach Corey Rose began that program from scratch. In his, and the program’s second year, the Apache ladies were celebrating a national championship.
Dickson is expecting similar success quickly. With her first recruiting class signed and sealed, she is excited about the start of TJC softball next fall, and changing her recruiting strategy from recruiting to start a program to recruiting to a championship program.