School is back in session this week at Central Oregon Community College.
Unlike at many other institutes of higher learning throughout the state, none of the students converging on the west Bend campus will participate in intercollegiate athletics, as they are not offered at COCC. But that does not mean that students who choose to become Bobcats lack for athletic opportunities, as the college provides a healthy offering of sports and activities at the club and intramural levels.
Two of those opportunities in club sports — Bobcat Racing and the COCC Rugby Football Club — are relatively new developments. Bobcat Racing is in its second year and offers competitive opportunities in cross-country, nordic skiing, cycling, triathlon, and track and field, while the men's rugby team is brand new and scheduled to play its first game this Saturday.
“Initially, it was just kind helping out with some sports that didn't exist, try to get some people riding bikes and skiing and that sort of thing, and then just recognizing that there were some big holes in our athletic options for students," says Matt Plummer, an instructor at COCC and the director of Bobcat Racing.
Students who participate in Bobcat Racing have access to a coach in Plummer and get to travel to and race in a variety of athletics events throughout the West. For example, on Saturday the cross-country team competed in its first meet of the season, the Northwest Classic in Eugene. And this past spring, Plummer took several COCC triathletes to the Wildflower Triathlon in central California. Numbers were small last school year — Plummer figures he coached about 25 to 30 student-athletes though he admits that his estimate might be generous — but he sees the potential for growth.
“Last year, the big focus was gaining experience for myself in this position, and now this year's going to be the first really committed to the sports," Plummer says.
Students attending COCC and Oregon State University-Cascades — which shares the COCC campus — who are taking at least six credits during a term are eligible to participate in Bobcat Racing (except for cycling and nordic skiing for OSU-C students). Aside from associated student fees, participation in the program is free, and uniforms and even travel are provided.
“I just enjoy coming out and practicing, and I like the fact that we're kind of introducing it to people, and people are starting to come out," says Jessica Czmowski, a 20-year-old COCC student who participated in track in the spring and has now come out for her first-ever season of cross-country.
Plummer compares his coaching role to that of a personal trainer, providing what each student needs. If someone needs a detailed training plan, he can provide one. Or if a student already has another coach or a training program in place, Plummer can be there to provide transportation to competitions.
Francis Cain, 20, is starting his third year at COCC this fall and was one of the students to compete in the spring at Wildflower, his first triathlon.
“Bobcat Racing, they paid for the trip, so that was really great because that's what made it possible," says Cain, who graduated from Burns High School before coming to Central Oregon. “I had this sweet opportunity to go do a triathlon somewhere I'd never been before in California, and do it for cheap cost."
Cain enjoyed his experience and now wants to purchase a road bike for his new sport after training on his mountain bike and then borrowing a road bike from a friend for the race.
A club such as Bobcat Racing provides him with a physical outlet.
“We don't have recess anymore," Cain notes of college students. “Our bodies don't move as much, so as adults, we need to make them move more in order to keep them good, get all that energy out."
As for the COCC Rugby Football Club, those Bobcats are scheduled to host Reed College at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Mazama Field, site of the COCC running track.
“It will be really interesting and fun to see what these young men can do, because they've really been working hard," rugby coach Woody Bennett says.
Central Oregon high school sports fans may recognize Bennett as the former football coach at Crook County High School in Prineville and as an assistant at Bend High School. But, he says, he also coached the collegiate rugby team at the OSU main branch in Corvallis for 14 years.
COCC rugby will compete in a league against Pacific Northwest sides representing schools such as Willamette University in Salem, and Washington's Seattle University and Whitman College in Walla Walla. Bennett says many of the members on this year's COCC squad took the rugby class he offered at the college in the spring. He is teaching another rugby class this fall and says he expects that to be a recruitment avenue for players. Open to both COCC and OSU-C students, the team fills a niche, Bennett says, between the high school and senior men's squads of the Bend Rugby Club, known as the Blues and the Roughriders, respectively. He notes that rugby players now have the option of playing for the Blues in high school, for COCC during college, and then, if they remain in Central Oregon, for the Roughriders.
Says Bennett: “This is really a perfect fit."