Grays Harbor College suspends men’s golf, men’s wrestling programs

Loss of two competitive programs deals another blow to fledgling athletics department

An uncertain period for Grays Harbor College athletics was exacerbated on Monday as school administrators decided to suspend the men’s wrestling and men’s golf programs effective immediately.

“In order to maintain and build on the strengths of our athletic program and comply with outside requirements, we have decided to suspend men’s golf and men’s wrestling for one year,” GHC Associate Vice President Kristy Anderson wrote in an email to The Daily World. “We will continue to work on the challenges in GHC’s Athletics program and will reassess as the year ahead unfolds. At this time, we believe that limiting our offerings, offering solid programs where students are supported in both their athletic and educational endeavors will strengthen the future of athletics at GHC.”

With the loss of the two programs, Grays Harbor College is down to four athletic programs – baseball, softball, men’s basketball and women’s wrestling – after a tumultuous half-decade that has seen a number of programs become extinct since 2019.

The loss of the men’s golf and men’s wrestling programs – both relatively successful in their competitive organizing bodies – is another blow to a school that has been unable to maintain multiple athletics programs in recent history.

“I am very sad about dropping men’s golf at GHC, but feel more sad for our players and recruits as I think golf was a successful program,” Chokers head golf coach Ann Swanson said. “I am working to help those players find a new school. GHC administration has to do what is best for the college and to have equitable opportunities for all athletes that hopefully will strengthen the future of GHC Athletics. … I have put my heart and soul into this program for the past 10 years and proud of what we have accomplished. I always tell my players to ‘enjoy the journey.’ And I have enjoyed my journey at GHC. I wish it could go on as I didn’t reach all my goals for the program.”

If the past few years are any indication, the future of GHC athletics is bleak. Since 2019, the school has been unable or unwilling to field women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer teams while a plan to get a cross-country program off the ground never came to fruition though the school had hired coaches for the job.

The situation at GHC generated enough concern for the school to request an audit by the Northwest Athletic Conference, which concluded in 2023.

“We are committed to building a comprehensive collegiate athletic experience for our student athletes that includes academic achievement, competitive athletics and opportunities to pursue interests and passions,” said Dr. Cal Erwin-Svoboda, former vice president of Student Services at GHC in a statement on the school’s website on June 7, 2023. “The changes announced today are part of a long-term effort to strengthen Choker athletics, which was impacted by the pandemic and has seen staff turnover in recent years.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Anderson on Tuesday.

“One year ago, following an audit GHC requested from the Northwest Athletics Conference, GHC embarked on a project to implement changes in our athletics program,” she wrote. “The changes identified from the review are in-progress and are designed to improve the student experience as well as to allow GHC to comply with NWAC standards and to make our athletics program more equitable for all students.”

Per the NWAC’s recommendations, the school acknowledged in the June 2023 statement the administrative focus of the athletic department will be to “shift to roster management, professional development that will include coach mentoring and training, evaluation of programs and facilities and a practical approach to recruiting student-athletes.”

But according to one former head coach, administrators have not followed through on those recommendations.

“A year ago, the NWAC came in and said if you don’t right the ship, we’re going to kick you out of the NWAC,” said former Grays Harbor women’s wrestling coach and Grays Harbor County Commissioner Kevin Pine. “So they gave Cal (Erwin-Svoboda) a list of things that the school needed to improve on. Going into this year, they had done zero of these things and the coaches were blamed for a lack of recruiting.”

Pine said the suspension of what was a successful men’s wrestling program is a product of mismanagement by the school’s administration, and he fears the women’s team may be next on the chopping block.

“(Former GHC men’s wrestling coach) Joshua (Pine) resigned at the end of the season last year and it took them over two months to post the job opening and then they claimed nobody applied for the job,” Kevin Pine said, who added he knew of applicants that were rejected by the school due to an NWAC recommendation regarding applicants possessing an Associate’s Degree. “I finally got my assistant coach to apply for the job and they didn’t hire him until after school started. So that was one of the reasons we had such a small team. We could only do very little recruiting for the men’s team. They were looking for a reason to drop men’s wrestling last year. I think I got in the way.”

Grays Harbor College wrestler Josh Luna won his weight class at a tournament on March 2 in Hoquiam. The college decided to suspend the men’s wrestling and men’s golf program on Monday.

DAILY WORLD FILE PHOTO Grays Harbor College wrestler Josh Luna won his weight class at a tournament on March 2 in Hoquiam. The college decided to suspend the men’s wrestling and men’s golf program on Monday.

Pine resigned as head coach of the women’s wrestling program in March and, as of the time of this writing, there is no job posting to fulfill the vacant women’s wrestling head coach position on the school’s Employment Opportunities website.

Pine believes the tactics he alleges school administrators used to thwart the men’s team last summer will be used again this year.

“They’ll open the position (for women’s wrestling head coach) maybe at the end of the summer, and when they don’t have anybody (left on the team) – maybe just a couple of girls (wrestlers) sticking around – they’ll drop women’s wrestling because they couldn’t find anybody,” he said.

And unfortunately for GHC sports programs, recent history shows there is nothing more permanent than a one-year hiatus.

Case in point, a once thriving volleyball program went on a one-year hiatus in 2019 after an unsuccessful search for a head coach. It has yet to return though it was mentioned in the school’s aforementioned 2023 statement.

Same with GHC’s women’s soccer and women’s basketball teams, both going belly-up over the past few seasons with no word on prospects for the programs resuming nor any current head coaching vacancies to fill.

Now men’s wrestling and golf can be added to that list.

For a school with less than 1,000 state-funded full-time equivalent students enrolled, the loss of two competitive athletics programs could potentially hinder any attempts to attract potential students and student-athletes to the college.

“By dropping sports, how is that going to get you to your FTEs?” Pine queried, adding that he believes a lack of administrative support for the athletics programs – such as upgrading athletic facilities – only exacerbates the college’s enrollment struggles. “If you are outside the area, why would you attend Grays Harbor (College) for athletics?”

For Swanson, a Twin Harbors and state golf legend, the sudden move ends, at least temporarily, a small yet successful program she has worked so hard to improve over her decade as head coach.

“We achieved many things representing GHC. I am especially proud of all the very fine young men who represented us and went on to greater things in golf and life,” she said. “I always told them that regardless of the outcome of any one tournament, the real value of our team is measured by the friendships made, achievements realized, memories made for a lifetime and those lives enriched by having been a part of this great game. I especially want to thank all the people who continued to support our program all this time. I am a Choker for life.”

Pine, who has often been critical of how a revolving-door of school administrators have handled the athletics programs during his six years as head coach, said the athletic department’s problems start at the top.

“It’s the leadership,” he said. “Not just in athletics, but across the board.”

Grays Harbor College Interim Athletic Director Jody Pope was unavailable for comment.