By CAYLEE HANNA
Amarillo College Vice President Denese Skinner remembers the day she played in a national college basketball tournament.
“There were recruiters from all over the country there,” said Skinner, the former basketball player who now heads up student affairs at AC. “Our team did not play well enough to win the tournament, but all of the sophomores who wanted to play at a university were offered scholarships to do so. That is an awesome success story,” she said.
One of the most striking aspects of Skinner’s story might not be evident immediately – the fact that the college she was playing basketball for was AC. From its founding up until the mid-1980s, AC had an athletic program, which is something few current students realize ever took place.
The AC athletics program gave students opportunities to win scholarships and move on to big universities to continue their sports careers. They also gave students many memories that they are able to reflect on while thinking about their time on the college campus.
“Sports were important when I first started teaching in 1972,” Bill Young, AC retirees association executive director, said. “Some were more noticeable such as basketball others were more in the background like tennis and gymnastics.”
Even though AC sports had successful moments, the program came to an end in the mid-’80s.
“I’ll never forget being at the board meeting when they canceled basketball. That was sad because both the men’s and women’s team competed well in a conference that was called the Western Athletic Junior College Conference,” Paul Matney, former AC president, said. “The reason athletics finally ended was that they seemed to lose their reason for being at AC. One of the reasons was the fact that we did not have dorms and so our players had to live in apartments. And it’s very difficult for coaches to supervise players when they are not all together living in a dorm somewhere.”
The athletic program at AC benefited a lot of organizations and even created organizations as well, such as the pep band, cheerleaders and the Badger Belles.
“We hated to see the program eliminated because it was great for the music department. It was good for the Badger Belles, which was a dance troop. It was good for the radio and TV department and the cheerleaders,” Matney said. “All of those activities revolved around having basketball teams.”
The AC athletic program encouraged students to enroll into college and awarded students scholarships for playing on sports teams.
“Certainly sports helped add to the enrollment at AC. One might assume that students came to AC to participate in the sport who might not otherwise choose to go to school here,” Skinner said. “For me, I would not have attended college had AC not offered me a scholarship to play.”
According to Skinner, the AC athletic program gave her a new opportunity to continue her education and helped her have a successful professional career.
“The opportunity for me to play basketball at AC changed the trajectory of my life. I would not be where I am today had it not been for the scholarship that brought me to AC,” Skinner said. “Kelly Chadwick’s ability to teach me how to play the sport led to my opportunity to continue to play at a 4-year university. I have a bachelor and master’s degree and have had a successful professional career all because AC asked me to play basketball for the college.”