Education

Expanding Sports Is Off-Field Boon for EGCC

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With the launch of a second sports program, Eastern Gateway Community College is of course looking for success on the court. But when the school’s volleyball team starts playing in the fall of 2020, it will also bring with it a group of students that are more likely to graduate with their associate’s degree than the typical student.

“That’s where the research points. Athletes tend to have higher retention rates and they stick with it because there’s infrastructure and motivation for them to do well,” said Eastern Gateway’s president, Jimmie Bruce, at Wednesday’s announcement. “Athletics brings another level of engagement for students. Students are working hard so they can play sports and while they’re doing that they’re building their academic skills as well.”

Eastern Gateway launched its athletic program two years ago with the creation of a baseball team. In the time since, vice president of the Youngstown campus Arthur Daly said he’s been impressed with the level of commitment the student-athletes have shown to both aspects of their collegiate careers.

“They study hard. They dedicate themselves to getting the grades they need on top of all this extra work that they need to do during the season,” he said. “They have a great tenacity and work ethic that’s been a boon for our college overall.”

While it’d be difficult to confuse the Eastern Gateway Gators with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Bruce said the addition of sports has nonetheless altered the atmosphere around campus.

“It’s brought a collegiate spirit to the campus that wasn’t here before. People talk about ‘the Gators’ like they talk about ‘the Penguins’ at YSU. That’s one of the most exciting things that’s happened on the campus,” he said.

It’s also served as a marketing tool for the college, Daly added. The Youngstown campus has existed for just 10 years and been in its current space downtown since 2012.

“It helps with students identifying Eastern Gateway as a place that’s here to serve students, as well as offer opportunities for extracurriculars,” he said. “One of the most important things is it increases our ability to keep students here and keep business interested in coming to the area because of not only educational opportunities but also building the community.”

Many of the student-athletes recruited to the volleyball team, said head coach Joe Conroy, will likely be locals. The Gators, for both baseball and volleyball, will play in the Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference, playing teams like Butler County Community College, Westmoreland Community College and the Boyce Campus of the Community College of Allegheny County.

“It’ll be a couple years of recruiting and I know this local talent does a great job. I know a lot of the young ladies in the area, so we’re going to see what we can do in that time,” he said. “I know a lot of young ladies can play at the level I’d like to see us go to. Now, it’s about selling them on coming to Eastern Gateway and being part of a successful program academically and athletically.”

Conroy has been playing volleyball for 50 years, he said, beginning when he was 13 at the Central YMCA just a block away from Eastern Gateway’s building. He played college football at the University of Toledo and went on to play volleyball professionally in California before turning to coaching, including a stint at Youngstown State University, where he is the winningest coach in program history with 188 wins.

“We’ve all known each other for a long, long time and he’s been a great athlete from this community,” said John Zizzo, introduced as Eastern Gateway’s athletic director Wednesday. “We couldn’t have gone anywhere in the country and found a better guy to start our program, that’s for sure. He’s high integrity, high character and a great choice to lead our young people.”

Pictured: Eastern Gateway Community College athletic director John Zizzo, President Jimmie Bruce and volleyball head coach Joe Conroy.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.