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75th Anniversary Features

  George E. Killian and Spencer Haywood Take the NJCAA to New Heights in the 1960's

November 15, 2012

by Mark Krug, NJCAA Assistant Executive Director

SPECIAL NOTE: As part of the ongoing celebration of its 75th Anniversary, the national headquarters of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) will release nine insightful articles during the 2012-13 academic year that will make up the NJCAA 75th Anniversary Feature Series. Below is the third installment of the series, which can also be found in the November issue of NJCAA Review.

Also, a supplement 75th Anniversary Q&A feature with George E. Killian is available this month on the NJCAA website as well as in the pages of the
November issue of NJCAA Review.

After successfully conquering many challenges in the 1940s and 50s, the NJCAA entered its fourth decade on seemingly solid ground. It had the support of the American Association of Junior Colleges (AAJC), was a key player in the National Alliance with the NAIA and National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations and had established a cordial working relationship with the NCAA.

During this time the association also began to grow at an incredible rate. After the ‘California Setback’ in 1951, NJCAA membership stayed under 200 member colleges for 10 years. However, by the 1960s membership in the organization eclipsed 300 for the first time, which brought about its own set of unique challenges.

In addition, change was becoming common place. Many longtime leaders of the organization were stepping aside or moving on. Dr. Reed Swenson of Weber College (Utah) stepped down as President of the NJCAA in 1962 as Weber shifted to a four-year institution. Longtime Editor of the JUCO Review, Laurence J. Burton of Weber, also resigned his post and eventually served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Compton College (Calif.) athletic director Earle Holmes stepped down as the Director of the Service Bureau in 1960. Also, Charles Sesher of Hutchinson Junior College (Kan.) relinquished the Vice-President position in 1964. Sesher had held the VP post since 1949 and was instrumental in making the NJCAA’s national championship basketball tournament an annual success during this time.

These and many other great men from the pivotal founding years of the NJCAA were beginning to retire or move on to other challenges in their professions. As a result, a wave of new athletic administrators and coaches began to rise to prominent positions both at the region and national level.

After serving as Treasurer of the NJCAA for many years, Dr. Gerald D. Allard of Farmingdale Agriculture & Technical College (N.Y.) was elected to replace Swenson as President in 1962. Other individuals that entered into the national scene included Joseph Rockenbach of Rochester Junior College, Minn. (tabbed as Treasurer in 1962), Jay W. Tolman of Mesa College, Colo. (elected Secretary in 1963), Homa S. Thomas of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College(elected Vice President in 1966 and President in ‘69), Martin Dittmer of Ellsworth Junior College, Iowa (selected as Secretary in 1967), and George E. Killian of Erie County Technical Institute, N.Y. (named Editor of the JUCO Review in 1962 and was elected President in ‘67).

One of the first major accomplishments of Allard and the NJCAA in the early 60s was the creation of the Commissioner of Eligibility position within the organization’s leadership structure. Allard strongly believed in that creating such a position “…member colleges will no longer wonder to whom infractions should be reported and no longer should there be an unwarranted time lag between the report of the infraction and action against the college concerned.”

Allard called upon Hobart Bolerjack of Benton Harbor Community College, Mich., to serve as the first NJCAA Commissioner of Eligibility. Bolerjack had previously served as Secretary of the NJCAA and in his new post was responsible for nearly all eligibility matters of the organization, including overseeing all proposals and changes to eligibility regulations. Bolerjack was an easy candidate and selection to this new position as he previously was the chair of the eligibility committee for many years. He had a solid reputation and was fair and just in his rulings. He was also very helpful and offered his analysis on the trouble areas of NJCAA eligibility for member colleges on a regular basis in the pages of the JUCO Review. He would hold the Commissioner of Eligibility post until 1970.

One constant and contentious issue in the early part of the decade was that of regional boundaries and districting. The NJCAA was still operating under the 16-region model, which was put in place in 1949 when membership was under 200 member colleges. By 1966 the issue was a top priority and needed to be addressed. Then-Secretary Tolman stated the problems in clear terms at the 1966 NJCAA annual meeting, “I feel that one of the most pressing, difficult and perplexing problems facing the NJCAA today is that of districting. Currently, we have two (2) regions which have only ten (10) members, while several regions have thirty-five (35) to forty (40) members. Regardless of the geographic and other factors involved, I seriously question if we can justify such a disparity in membership among the sixteen regions…..such inequality in representation is indefensible and immediate steps should be taken to remedy the situation.”

Everyone in the NJCAA agreed with Tolman’s assessment, yet breaking from the 16-region format would cause problems of its own for many sports – most notably the 16-team bracket for the basketball  national championship in Hutchinson. It would take several years for the organization to come up with a solution that the majority of the membership would agree to. Finally in 1968, the NJCAA expanded from 16 to 18 regions and then to 19 regions in 1969.

By the late 1960’s the NJCAA’s membership was nearing 400 colleges and it was becoming clear that the day-to-day business of the organization was too much for a group of volunteers to handle. Similar organizations like the NCAA, NFSHSAA and NAIA had full-time executive directors or commissioners and calls for the NJCAA to follow suit increased. Much like today, the officers and Region Directors of the NJCAA were athletic directors, coaches or administrators from member colleges. They volunteered their time to assist and lead an organization they deeply cared about. Many spent their own money and resources to attend executive and annual meetings.

Neither Allard nor Tolman sought re-election to their respective offices in 1967 and the NJCAA then turned to Killian to take the office of President. After careful consideration and research, the membership approved the creation of the office of NJCAA Executive Director a year later and a search committee - headed by Vice President Homa Thomas - was appointed to review qualified applicants for the position and make its recommendation at the 1969 meeting.

It turned out that the NJCAA already had the right man for the job. Thomas, as well as a large contingent of supporters, believed Killian was the ideal candidate for the position. After talking it over with his family, Killian accepted the offer and became the first Executive Director of the NJCAA in April of 1969. Doing so meant he had to leave his position as head basketball coach and athletic director at Erie County & Technical College in Buffalo, N.Y., and relocate his family to Hutchinson as the organization voted that the national office of the NJCAA was to be based where its most prominent national tournament was located.

On August 1, 1969 the national office of the NJCAA officially opened in the Hilton Inn, also known as the Baker Hotel, in Hutchinson. Killian and Thomas, who was now NJCAA President, along with financial advisor Jerome Chandler and secretary Maxine Harper where on hand for an informal ceremony that resulted in great publicity for the organization in the area.

The NJCAA was in dire need of a man like Killian at the helm. As President, and then later as Executive Director, he pushed the NJCAA and its Regions to increase membership and actively recruit new colleges into the organization. This resulted in a continued surge in membership throughout the 1960s and 70s. Killian believed a larger association would raise the profile of the NJCAA and make it hard for people to ignore.

Killian strengthened the NJCAA’s representation on the United States Olympic Committee and led the organization in becoming a charter member of the United States Sports Council with the NCAA, NAIA and other groups in 1967. Both yielded big dividends by the end of the decade.

With the United States Sports Council the NJCAA had access and was involved in the process of organizing and administering a program that selected American athletes to participate in the World University Games. It also helped the NJCAA stage international exhibitions at home and abroad.

Thanks to Killian’s dynamic personality and persistence, by 1967 the USOC approved the NJCAA and California two-year colleges to participate in the U.S. Olympic team trials in the sports of basketball, track & field and wrestling. For basketball, Dick Baldwin of Broome Technical College, N.Y., and Jerry Tarkanian of Pasadena City College, Calif., served as co-head coaches at the Junior College Olympic Trials held in Hutchinson March 29-30, 1968. A squad of 25 was trimmed down to 12 that then travelled to Albuquerque, N.M., for the US Basketball Olympic Team Trials and competed against teams representing the AAU, Armed Forces Coalition, NCAA and NAIA. Players from all teams were eligible for selection on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team coached by Henry Iba that would compete in Mexico City.

Many dismissed the junior college players and so-called experts believed they would be overmatched at the trials. However, those assumptions were proven false. NJCAA superstar Spencer Haywood of Trinidad State Junior College (Colo.) not only impressed those in attendance but more importantly caught the eye of Iba. Haywood was selected to Team USA and was just 19 years old at the time. He became the first teenager to play on the U.S. Olympic basketball team and made the cut over future Naismith Hall of Famers Pete Maravich, Calvin Murphy and Dan Issel.

Haywood’s selection proved to be important not only for the NJCAA but also for the United States. He led Team USA in scoring at the Mexico City Olympics, averaging 16.1 points per game. He scored 21 points in the gold medal game against Yugoslavia, securing the seventh-straight gold medal for the United States in men’s basketball.

Killian, who attended the Olympics for the first time in Mexico City, wrote the following in the November 1968 issue of JUCO Review: “We of the NJCAA can be extremely proud of Spencer Haywood’s play in the Olympic Games, but most noteworthy, we can point with pride to the wonderful showing Spencer made as a sportsman and a gentleman.”

The American sports media could not get enough of Haywood and his rise from the NJCAA to Olympic stardom. His story solidified that the competition level in the NJCAA was high and warranted respect. Historically, nothing did more for the success and long-term credibility of the NJCAA during this time than Haywood’s selection to and performance on the U.S. Olympic team. He would go on to success at the University of Detroit and later in the ABA and NBA.

Yet, without the efforts of new NJCAA leaders like Killian, Haywood and thousands of other student-athletes would not have had such tremendous opportunities.

The NJCAA entered the 1960s in a state of flux. Proven, trusted leaders had stepped aside. New leadership in a new era of collegiate and amateur athletics was needed. Though many were capable, no one was more right for the job than George E. Killian. As the decade closed, Killian was ready to advance the NJCAA in ways no one could have imagined.

With its sights on the future, the NJCAA, led by its new Executive Director, was ready and equipped to forge ahead.

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