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Skipjacks to move up to Division I
Chesapeake College will play five of six sports at DI level

WYE MILLS – Chesapeake College officials announced Monday that nearly all of the college’s athletic programs will play at the Division I level effective with the start of the 2006-07 academic year.

"We believe we’re ready to take this step," said Chesapeake College Athletic Director Frank Szymanski, who said college officials have been studying such a move "for quite some time."

Szymanski said men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, and baseball will all be Division I programs. Women’s softball, just starting is second season back since a recent hiatus, will remain Division II.

The National Junior College Athletic Association allows institutions to compete in different divisions in different sports.

Szymanski said softball is remaining in Division II since it relies almost entirely on Mid-Shore players. The ability to offer scholarship aid for housing costs - one of the advantages of moving to Division I – hasn’t historically been a factor in softball. The other sports, however, have favored a recruiting philosophy blending local and non-shore student athletes.

Szymanski, who doubles as the college’s baseball coach, said last year’s World Series participant baseball team was a good example of that mix.

"We had key players like Bryan Brainer (Kent Island High) and Brett Ireland (North Caroline High) who were from local high schools, and other key players like Clarke Rollins (Chopticon High – St. Mary’s County) and Matt Fitzgerald (Hayfield High – Northern Virginia) who we recruited from outside the region," said Szymanski. "To contend for a region title, you have to be able to get both types of players. Athletic scholarships that can be used to assist with housing costs provides another good recruiting tool."

Szymanski said he views several of the college’s sports teams as ready right now to compete at the Division I level in the postseason.

The college has qualified for the Region XX Division II baseball tournament six straight years, including winning region and district championships last spring on the way to a fifth-place finish at the Division II World Series. The Skipjacks are off to a 5-1 start this season, including wins over perennial Region XX contender CCBC-Catonsville and Region XIX power Delaware Tech-Georgetown.

The men’s basketball team has posted five straight winning seasons, including a school-record-tying 21 victories in the 2003-2004 season. On Monday, Chesapeake welcomed back the architect of that team, former head coach John Mappas, who has signed off for a second stint as head coach.

While the success enjoyed by the baseball and men’s basketball programs played a role in the move, Szymanski said the emergence of a viable women’s basketball program was just as important.

"We’ve had trouble establishing our women’s programs, but we feel like the foundation is in place thanks to (women’s head basketball coach) Lowell Shaw," said Szymanski.

Shaw’s women’s basketball team tied a school record with seven victories this winter. While the softball team will stay Division II, Szymanski said he is heartened by their 4-2 start this spring under second-year head coach Melissa Thompson.

Szymanski said new coaches Katie Long in women’s soccer and Dan Meehan, Jr. in men’s soccer give the Skipjacks a solid shot at fielding teams next school year in all six sports that Chesapeake offers.

"We see some real advantages of moving to Division I, but only wanted to make the move if at least most of our programs were ready for it," said Szymanski.

The ability to cover housing costs increases recruiting flexibility, according to Szymanski.

"Sometimes our coaches could have benefited from that flexibility," said Szymanski. "Sometimes players can cover tuition, fees and books through other sources, like academic scholarships or need-based aid. What they really need is aid that can assist with housing costs, particularly recruits from outside the Mid-Shore."

Szymanski said the college won’t necessarily have more scholarship funds, but the coaches will enjoy greater flexibility in how to use these funds.

"We have to fundraise for all of our athletic scholarship money," noted Szymanski, who said the college’s annual golf tournament currently accounts for the largest part of the college’s athletic scholarship funds. "We are always looking for new fundraising opportunities to grow the scholarship budget."

Mappas, who will be in Wye Mills Wednesday to meet with players from this past season’s basketball team, said Division I basketball shouldn’t be that much more challenging than Division II given the strength of basketball in general in Region XX.

"In Division I you have to deal with Allegany, Hagerstown, and Garrett, but you’ve got Cecil (ranked No. 1 in the country), Prince George’s and Frederick in Division II who were all nationally ranked at one time or another this season," noted Mappas. "At the top, both divisions have a lot of talent."

Szymanski echoed Mappas’ thoughts with regard to baseball.

"In our region, whether you’re in Division I or Division II, you’ve got to get past a lot of good teams to get to the national tournament," said Szymanski. "I think the step-up in competition really comes at the national level. That’s where you probably see the biggest difference between Division I and Division II."

Chesapeake will continue to be a member of the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference and Region XX, but the Skipjacks’ post-season regional tournaments will be played against the region’s other Division I members.

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