On the Trail to Success: Donation brings new life to Western State Cycling
July 14, 2011 (by Matt Smith, "Gunnison Country Times") -- The Western State (WSC) cycling club will have a lot more torque in their pursuit of reaching prominence in the National Collegiate Cycling Association (NCCA) in coming years.
Thanks to a generous donation made by a WSC alumnus, school officials and club organizers are now hoping to see the program flourish into one of the most competitive collegiate teams in the nation, as well as a driving force for student recruitment and retention.
"It's essential that Western has a commitment to have students as engaged as possible outside of the classroom, and club sports are a huge part of that," said Tom Burggraf, executive director of the WSC Foundation. "This will also help put us on the map with some high school students who might not otherwise think of attending Western."
Michael and Mari Johnson are responsible for the contribution to the program, which amounts to $25,000 each year for the next three years. Michael, a 1977 graduate of WSC, is the acting chairman and CEO of Herbalife International -- a Fortune 500 company based in California.
The cycling club is comprised of both mountain and road disciplines. The mountain biking team has provided the most consistent student interest -- even winning the 2006 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships -- while participation on the road team has fluctuated throughout recent years.
In past seasons, the organization has functioned on an operating budget of about $12,000 per year, according to WSC club sports director Greg White. A large portion of that money is raised through their own fundraising efforts, while membership dues and a small portion of student fees also aide the cause.
Most of that operating budget goes towards paying two part-time coaches, purchasing a limited amount of equipment, registration for events and travel expenses.
With the donation, White sees the club being able to stretch beyond that usual year-to-year survival mode.
"Really what we'd like to see is a lot of growth right off the bat and then some stability into a solid sports team with competitive student athletes," said White. "The donation is massive, because it guarantees some long term survival and you don't get that with every club sports team."
Eszter Horanyi, who was hired on last year as the club's cross country mountain biking coach, sees the potential to build the program into something similar to that of Fort Lewis College's team. The Skyhawks were recently named the No. 1 Div. I Collegiate Cycling Program in the nation for the 2010-11 season by USA Cycling.
"Right now, they're sort of the premier club in the country," said Horanyi, a longtime pro cyclist. "I'd really like to see us grow towards what they've become, being that they're a similar size school in a similar location and have done some pretty amazing things."
Horanyi added that the funds will allow for the club to offer a number of scholarships, large and small, which could go to any full-time WSC students. This past year, 17 members competed during the fall mountain bike season.
It's not the first time that the Johnson family has made a large contribution towards supporting programs and facilities at WSC. Those donations include monies gifted towards supporting the club ski program, campus radio station and construction of the Borick Business Building.
"He's been a great friend of the college and someone who's been very supportive throughout the years," said Gary Pierson, vice president of student affairs and a past advisor for the cycling program. "He wanted to find a way to help and I think his passion and interest for cycling, as well as for Western State, had a lot to do with it."
For more information about the WSC cycling club, visit www.western.edu and navigate to the "club sports" tab at the bottom of the screen.