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Athletics help transform tech school

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

GOODLAND -- Northwest Kansas Technical College has reinvented itself.

NWKTC in Goodland no longer is just a technical school; it's become a two-year college attempting to stay on the leading edge of technology in its programs' industries.

So far so good, said NWKTC chief information director Brad Bergsma.

Since it started revamping its campus and programs, enrollment has doubled from approximately 250 students to nearly 600, and Bergsma said student life has improved drastically.

Part of that is a result of the addition of athletics.

Four years ago, NWKTC was in trouble. Enrollment had dropped and a tight budget forced the college to make difficult decisions.

Then Ed Mills was named president at NWKTC.

With the board of directors' support, Mills decided the best way out of the school's predicament was to increase enrollment.

NWKTC added athletic programs to bring in students and enrich student life.

"The board encouraged him to grow," Bergsma said. "We looked at several different things. Athletics was one of them."

NWKTC created men's and women's wrestling and rodeo programs, which was followed later by men's and women's soccer, men's and women's basketball, golf, cross country, track and field, and dance teams.

Furthermore, NWKTC remodeled several buildings on campus, improved technology in classrooms and revamped its curriculum to be more cutting edge.

The school also implemented the first one-to-one iPad initiative for a college in Kansas and was the first two-year college in the nation to do so.

With all of the expansion, NWKTC needed more class space, offices and locker rooms.

"We've had growing pains for sure," Bergsma said.

All the teams were using the locker rooms in the Larry Keirns Fitness Center on campus, but they were tiny and only had a small amount of lockers. The wrestling teams practice in the abandoned armory building, but it is off campus and requires athletes to be bused there or find rides to practice.

As a result, the school commissioned for a new $1.1 million academic/athletic facility to be built. The building will be located east of the Fitness Center and will house three classrooms, four locker rooms, four offices and one training room for wrestling practices -- large enough to house three full wrestling mats.

"All the little things that you don't really think of when you're starting teams they are going to be able to put in that building," said men's basketball coach Jase Herl.

The new facility, which hasn't been named yet, is expected to be complete in August.

"It shows a lot of support from the administration, the board and an effort to make us a legitimate contender in all athletics," said head wrestling coach Paul Gomez, who coaches the only women's collegiate wrestling team in Kansas. "I'm excited. A wrestling room with a whole lot of space? Who wouldn't want that?"

Bergsma said adding athletics has done a great deal in enriching student life, and since revamping the school's education programs and buildings, there's been a noticeable increase in student participation.

"We've seen all the extracurricular activities grow," Bergsma said.

Herl said he believes athletics played a significant role in better connecting the campus.

"I think athletics helps," Herl said. "If you get kids over to the games -- whether it be soccer or wrestling -- the campus can come together for something."

The programs still are new. Men's basketball just completed its first full season, so there's still going to be challenges, such as scheduling and overcoming the technical school stereotype.

Many established junior colleges refuse to schedule home-and-home games with NWKTC, Bergsma said.

"There is kind of a stigma about technical colleges having athletics," he said.

NWKTC also isn't just cranking out mechanics, electricians and contractors. The school has improved, added or is in the process of adding numerous programs, such as crime scene investigation, wireless technology, mobile app development, engineering and respiratory therapy programs.

"We've added some programs and revamped some existing programs to make them more modern, which has helped as well," Bergsma said.