Saturday, June 17, 2017

Florida Gateway College has a future in cross-country

Florida Gateway College has plans to field a women's cross-country team. Don't get excited just yet, though; the Lady Timberwolves won't be running before the 2018 season.

Establishing a cross-country team is part of a larger plan to bring intercollegiate athletics back to the Lake City, Florida college. During the 2017-2018 academic year, Florida Gateway will return to competition with a women's volleyball team and a men's golf squad. The school has already hired Richie Tang to coach volleyball and John Reger as the golf coach. During 2018-2019 women's cross-country and men's basketball are scheduled to join Florida Gateway's athletic program.

Florida Gateway College
Florida Gateway College's history goes back to 1947, when the school was established on it was established as the Columbia Forestry School, using buildings left over from Lake City Naval Air Station. Over the years the institution was known as the University of Florida Forest Ranger School, Lake City Junior College, and Lake City Community College. As Lake City Junior College the school began fielding sports teams.

Cross-country was one of the college's sports. As Lake City Junior College the school placed sixteenth in the NJCAA men's cross-county national championship in 1966. In 1973, now named Lake City Community College, the Timberwolves placed sixth in the national meet. Women at the college also competed in cross-country over the years. Kimberly Dahn of Lake City Community College finished seventh in the Division II women's race at the NJCAA National Championships in 1991.

But in 2008, with the college facing bleak financial prospects, the school dropped intercollegiate athletics as an austerity measure.

Sports are coming back to the college, though, with cross-country part of the revival. The Timberwolves' old rivals in the NJCAA may not recognize them, though, because the school was officially rebranded Florida Gateway College in 2010. While preparing to meet those rivals, Lake City isn't a bad place to build a distance running program. South of town, Alligator Lake Park is an established cross-country racing venue; the park has hosted major high school meets for years. East of town, athletes can log long training runs in the Osceola National Forest. That would be a nod to Florida Gateway's origins as a forestry school.

Women's junior college cross-country is a growing sport in Florida. Four schools already compete--Chipola College, Pasco-Hernando State College, South Florida State College, and Tallahassee Community College. During 2016, all four met at the first Florida Florida College System Activities Association Cross-Country Championship, won by Pasco-Hernando State. Florida State College at Jacksonville has said that they'll be joining the party in 2017. Look for Florida Gateway in 2018.