By Carmen K. Sisson/The Commercial Dispatch
COLUMBUS — A decade has passed since intercollegiate sports was part of campus life at Mississippi University for Women.
Now, the university is moving into the second phase of restoring the athletics program — determining whether the move is academically and financially viable.
MUW President Dr. Jim Borsig announced the possibility to a gymnasium filled with former athletes and coaches during homecoming week in April. Not surprisingly, the idea was met with enthusiasm by the home team.
A 16-member committee, drawn from a pool of faculty, staff, students and community leaders, met twice to gauge interest and explore options for what such a program might look like if implemented. The consensus favored moving forward with the exploratory phase.
The next step involves forming a new committee to answer some of the questions raised by the first group. Borsig said the study will examine everything from club sports to intercollegiate athletics.
One of the supporters was committee member Roger Short, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority.
When MUW’s program was at its apex, intercollegiate teams competed in basketball, volleyball, softball, track and field, swimming, tennis, badminton and gymnastics. While all sports may not be feasible, Short said that as a softball fan, he’d like to see fast pitch return to campus.
Most likely, if the program is reinstated, campus leaders will narrow the field to only a few sports, at least initially.
There are challenges, from renovating and converting facilities for intercollegiate usage to providing dressing areas, hiring additional staff, providing medical services, and funding travel, insurance and facility maintenance.
Another issue which must be considered is Title IX compliance, a federal mandate which ensures equality for male and female athletes, including equal selection of sports, equipment, facilities and coaches’ compensation.
“It’s harder than just saying, ‘All right, we’re going to bring back athletics,'” Short said. “I think it would be great, but they’re going to have to look at things. But I think it’s highly possible to do it with what they have.”
The college may also benefit from the recently completed Columbus Soccer Complex, where campus soccer teams could practice and compete. Short said CLRA has offered the use of its facilities.
Whereas Borsig sees athletics as a way to enhance the overall collegiate experience and strengthen academics, Short sees another opportunity — a way to bring the community together and improve quality of life while having a positive economic impact.
“Even though we’re a small city and they are a small college, it just gives the people here in Columbus the opportunity to go see sports at a different level.
“Anyone who knows history knows they were very well-known in the Gulf South Conference (a NCAA Division II college athletics conference). They were very, very competitive in fast pitch (softball) and basketball. I think they will definitely have a following,” Short said.
That rich history was documented last year in a 538-page book, “The Legacy of the Blues: A Century of Athletics at The W,” by former MUW athletics coaches Dorothy Burdeshaw, Barbara Garrett, Martha Fulton-Wells, Jo Spearman and Joan Thompson Thomas.
Burdeshaw and Spearman served on the committee with Short.