The Association enters a new decade by tackling an issue that had been given much attention for several years – financial assistance for student-athletes. A Scholarships & Grant-in-Aid Committee was established in the late 1960’s and by March 1970 the first regulations on athletic scholarships in two-year college athletics were passed by the NJCAA board of directors.
“…the Association dedicates itself to the establishment of scholarship policies that will enable its member colleges to compete with each other on an equitable basis; and that these policies be protective of the welfare and rights of the student-athlete….” – Article VII, Section 1 (1970 NJCAA Constitution and By-Laws)
Cover of the 1970-71 NJCAA Handbook from NJCAA Archives.
In September 1971 former Eastern Arizona College football player and NJCAA All-American John Mitchell becomes the first African-American to play football at the University of Alabama. He would later become the first African-American to be named captain as well as the first to hold a football coaching position at Alabama. Mitchell is currently an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Also in 1971, NJCAA membership soars to 501 colleges, a 52 percent (52%) increase from the 1964-65 season.
In response to Title IX legislation being signed into law by President Richard Nixon, NJCAA President Homa S. Thomas launches a special study committee to research starting a women’s division for the Association that would foster a national athletics and championship program for current and future members colleges.
Results from a special study committee, formed a year prior by President Homa S. Thomas and Executive Director George E. Killian, finds that the NJCAA should organize a women’s division. At the time, membership in the NJCAA stood at 533 colleges and 21 regions. Each region had a regional director and one vote on the NJCAA Board of Directors. From its conception, the vision of the NJCAA’s Women’s Division was for it to be equal, resulting in a women’s region director for each region and a women’s vice-president and secretary-treasurer. However, there would be just one president of the NJCAA.
Theo J. Heap of Mesa Community College (Ariz.) takes over as NJCAA President as the development of an NJCAA Women’s Division continues. At the 1974 annual meeting, the Association formally invites a women’s representative from each of the 22 regions to the 1975 legislative assembly with the goal of officially adopting the creation of a women’s division.
In the meantime, the board of directors approves invitational women’s championship events for the 1974-75 season in volleyball, basketball and tennis. The NJCAA was the first of the major three collegiate sports organizations (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA) to sponsor a women’s championship tournament. The 1974 NJCAA Volleyball Invitational Championship, held on the campus of CCBC Catonsville (Md.), marked the first national championship event in women’s athletics outside of the governance of the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women).
On March 16, 1975, NJCAA Board of Directors vote 19-2 in favor of adding a women’s division, becoming the first of the three major collegiate athletic associations (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA) to integrate women’s athletics into their platform. The NAIA would follow suit in 1980 and the NCAA in 1981.
Region directors for the newly formed women’s division voted in Lea Plarski from Florissant Valley Community College, Mo., to the position of Vice-President for Women while Donnis Schmitt of Dodge City Community College, Kan., was voted into the position of Secretary-Treasurer for Women. Sandra Sheedy of Fulton Montgomery Community College, N.Y., and Dixie Woodall of Seminole Junior College, Okla., were appointed to serve as at-large representatives on the NJCAA Executive Committee.
Photo: The leadership of the newly established women's division of the NJCAA in 1975-76.
As the NJCAA expands from 21 to 22 Regions, the NJCAA again makes history in March of 1976 when Johnson County Community College, Kan., hosts the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament. The event made the NJCAA the first of the three major collegiate athletic governing bodies (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA) to provide a qualification-based (non- invitational) national championship tournament in women’s basketball.
Membership in the Association reaches its all-time high of 586 – of which 296 also participate in the newly formed women’s division.
Photo: Seminole JC (Okla.) won the 1976 NJCAA Women's Basketball Championship with a 83-74 victory over Jackson CC (Mich.). The tournament was held on the campus of Johnson County CC (Kan.) from 1974-82. Image taken from May 1976 JUCO Review.
The NJCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament expands from a 16-team, five-day, 21-game event to a 21-team, six-day, 35-game bracket for the ’76 and ’77 tournaments. Despite both tournaments being memorable for the high-caliber of play, the NJCAA, American Legion and local officials in Hutchinson agreed to go back to a 16-team tournament due to drops in ticket sales and volunteers.
Photo: Cover of the 1977 NJCAA Men's Basketball Championship program from NJCAA Archives.
The NJCAA Baseball Championship (aka JUCO World Series) celebrates its 20th year in Grand Junction, Colo. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs highlights the pre-tournament banquet as the keynote speaker prior to the start of 1978 tournament.
In its first 21 years of existence (20 in Grand Junction, 1 in Miami, Okla.) over 30 players that participated in the NJCAA Baseball Championship had made an MLB roster.
Photo: Cover of the 1978 NJCAA Baseball Championship program compliments of the JUCO Grand Junction Baseball Committee.
By the 1979-80 academic season, membership in the NJCAA was at 564 colleges with 489 filing membership in both the men’s and women’s division. The success of the women’s division, adopted just five years prior, was shining brighter as each year passed. By 1979 the NJCAA was sponsoring national championship events for female student-athletes in basketball, cross country, gymnastics, outdoor track & field, fast-pitch softball, swimming & diving, tennis and volleyball. Invitational tournaments were also thriving in women’s bowling, field hockey, golf, skiing and slow-pitch softball.
When asked about the success of the NJCAA Women’s Division during the ’79-’80 season Vice President for Women Lea Plarski said, “Credit for the success of the women’s division must rightfully be shared with the men of the NJCAA. From inception of the program women were guaranteed equality under the Association’s constitution…..In the NJCAA, the ideal of men and women working hand in hand for the benefit of member colleges has become a reality.”
Photo: Lea Plarski served as Vice President of the NJCAA Women's Division from 1975-84. NJCAA Photo.