One of the keys to building a successful athletic department at the junior college level is the ability to recruit home-grown talent.
One of the main reasons community colleges intensely recruit local athletes is so the entire community the college serves can feel a sense of ownership to the school's athletic teams.
Central Lakes College is no different. Its coaches have pegged recruitment of local athletes as a priority and that priority is usually reflected on team rosters.
But CLC's recruiting practices could also change in the future now that the college offers out of state students in-state tuition rates.
While CLC teams are usually represented by such towns as Pierz, Verndale, Staples and Crosby one area high school has curiously been absent when it comes to its athletes playing for the Raiders.
Oddly enough, it's Brainerd High School, CLC's neighbor across the Mississippi River.
Of CLC's eight sports (football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball and men's and women's golf), only four BHS athletes played for the Raiders during the 2003-04 season.
Warriors football, for example, is the largest sport at BHS in regard to player participation and one of the most successful. Yet, currently there are only nine former BHS football players competing in college, none anywhere at the junior college level.
The last time the Raiders' football team had a winning record was 1998 when it finished 6-2. On that team were nine players from BHS and 12 from other towns in the lakes area.
Even with the tuition change the CLC athletic department has said it will continue to recruit area and Minnesota athletes first. Jim Russell, who coaches men's basketball and golf, and Dennis Eastman, who coaches football and women's basketball, don't have any answers as to why BHS athletes are absent from CLC rosters.
"I really don't know why they don't come out," Eastman said. "It's not like we don't recruit them because we send out a lot of letters. We've sent out nearly 800 letters to football players in the state. It all depends on what those kids are looking for."
Russell has seen the recruitment of in-state athletes grow more difficult each year. Russell says he competes with numerous Division II and III colleges for many of the same players.
"With all the recruiting I've done I get the feeling that many of the Minnesota kids don't prefer to go to a community college," Russell said. "Kids from around this area are very good students. We knock on their doors, but when a kid says they're going to a four-year school, that's their goal and dream.
"At the junior college level we have to work two or three times harder to get kids to understand that our education is just as good as anywhere else."
Eastman recalls when he was a high school athlete he swore he wouldn't attend North Dakota State College of Science near his hometown. He went to California for school and sports, didn't like it, returned home and attended his hometown college for two years.
"That happens a lot to high school athletes," Eastman said. "Sometimes kids find out that life can be tough and it kicks you in the butt. It was nice to know I could come back home and have a place to play."
Joel Clough is one example of a BHS standout who decided to play close to home. Clough, the 1999 BHS male athlete of the year, played two years of basketball for Russell. He was captain his sophomore year when the Raiders set a then school-record for wins in a season (19).
Clough said many of his BHS classmates wanted to move out on their own and go somewhere else for college. But he also knew BHS athletes who went to CLC but never played sports.
"I think part of it, for some people, is they want to get out and move on," Clough said. "I had a few friends that went to CLC that were good football players and didn't play because the coach never talked to them."
Part 3 of 3
Today: A look at why fewer Brainerd High School athletes are competing for the Raiders.
Justin Huether is another former BHS athlete who will wear a Raiders uniform. This spring Huether will play baseball at CLC.
As a senior at BHS last year, Huether said many football players received letters from CLC. But he also pointed out that among many of his former classmates, there's a stigma attached to attending a community college.
"Pretty much everyone that played football got a letter last year," Huether said. "Some guys did think about playing there, but there's not even too many players from the high school playing baseball in college.
"In a way it's looked down on to play at CLC because it looks like you're not going anywhere."
Clough, like many athletes before him, never looked at community college athletics that way. CLC ended up being the best fit for him, academically and athletically.
"CLC was a good situation for me to get my generals done and figure out what I wanted to do," said Clough. "I had a lot of fun playing basketball at CLC."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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