Lady Dragons basketball rebounds from close call

May 30, 2013

Women’s basketball at Paris Junior College survives a scare – and looks for a coach.

Northeast Texas might not be North Carolina, but college basketball is a big deal around here. The Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions and Paris Junior College Dragons have proud traditions and plenty of fans who appreciate the affordable entertainment that basketball provides over the winter months.

Nevertheless, the current era of fiscal austerity almost sent one of our region’s teams off the court for good. The Paris Junior College women’s basketball program, rumored to be cut from the school’s budget, will return to the hardwood this fall.

The trouble began at a May 20 meeting of the school’s board of regents. Former athletics director and women’s basketball head coach Sean LeBeauf had recently accepted a position at the University of Arizona. The discontinuity created by LeBeauf’s departure gave the regents a chance to review the program’s continued presence in the college’s budget.

Not all junior colleges in Texas compete in National Junior College Athletic Association sports. The costs just don’t fit into every school’s budget. With a potential $100,000 annual-budget deficit looming, the regents voted 6-3 to cut women’s basketball.

A week of public outcry ensued- and the regents listened. At a special meeting on May 24, the regents voted unanimously to keep the program and look for a new head coach.

“I’m glad it’s over, because it has created a lot of turmoil this week throughout the state for these kids in not knowing what was going to happen,” Paris Junior College president Pam Anglin told The Paris News last Friday.

In four seasons under LeBeauf, the Lady Dragons went 70-51, including a school-best 24-6 and national ranking in 2011-12. While at Paris, LeBeauf coached an NJCAA All-American nominee, four All-Region XIV selections, five honorable mention All-Conference selections and two Freshman of the Year nominees.

While finding a coach of LeBeauf’s caliber will be a challenge, finding money to keep the program going could be an even greater challenge for the college.

“We’ll have to revisit it all financially when we do our budget workshop for next year’s budget,” Anglin told The Paris News in the same interview. “Our revenue is not there from our dorms, our bookstore and our cafeteria. Something long-term must be done because the athletic expenditures are just escalating.”

State funds can’t be used to pay for the athletic program. If a school like Paris Junior College wants to have intercollegiate sports, it must rely on income from students themselves – not exactly a mighty revenue stream.

Of course, donations can fill in the gaps. In a May 25 editorial, The Paris News publisher J.D. Davidson called on the community beyond the college to step up to keep athletics at Paris Junior College financially viable.

“Either the community must decide to pay more in taxes or it must decide to attend games in massive numbers or must decide to donate significantly more to the school’s booster club,” Davidson said. “While regents carry the final vote on whether to keep or eliminate programs at PJC, make no mistake, the community makes the decision.”