CHEYENNE – The notifications on Cindy Henning’s phone started going berserk as word spread that Gillette and Sheridan colleges were dropping their athletics programs effective Thursday.
Athletes, coaches and supporters were all checking in to see if Laramie County Community College might follow suit. Henning – LCCC’s interim athletics director – assured everyone who reached out to her the school intends to continue offering athletics. She echoed those sentiments in a message Thursday afternoon on Twitter.
“I wanted to get something out there, just to let people know we’re still working on our return to competition plan, and that we intend to play,” Henning told WyoSports Friday morning. “We plan to be on the pitch, on the court and in the arena this school year.”
Gillette and Sheridan are both part of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. On June 18, its trustees identified what they described as a financial emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cutting athletics accounted for $2.8 million in savings. Their rodeo teams were spared, but will have their budgets reduced.
LCCC expects to also be negatively impacted financially and is already finding fat to trim and ways to stretch dollars. That includes being particular about where it sends teams to play.
“Sheridan and Gillette not having sports now puts a hole in our schedules, and we have to figure out how or whether to fill that hole,” Henning said. “Would it be better to play an opponent closer than farther away? Those are the sorts of conversations we’ve been having.
“Our coaches have been very good as we made early adjustments to our budget this spring. In the time I’ve been at LCCC, I’ve thought our administrative leadership team has taken a really strategic approach to making budget cuts. I’m sure they’ll continue to do that, and the athletic department will mirror that approach.”
Coaches have already found ways they can reduce their budget while minimizing the impact felt by their athletes. It was important for the athletes to still be taken care of, Henning said.
LCCC’s return to competition plan centers around bringing athletes back to campus and protocols for practice and competition. The document has been assembled in cooperation with campus personnel, coaches and the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department. It is in its fourth draft, and Henning expects the final draft to be completed next week.
Henning also has gotten input from a number of people, including University of Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman.
“It’s been a pretty smooth process,” Henning said. “We had seen some plans from a couple other colleges before we sat down and started putting things on paper. We also have been talking and tweaking as we go.
“There are things we’re going to be able to improve and tighten up on our plan based on those conversations we had with UW, including its training and equipment staff. Right now, I feel pretty good about where we’re at.”
Once the plan is finalized, Henning expects to do a virtual town hall with all of LCCC’s coaches, athletes and parents to lay out expectations.
“We’re going to tell them we need them to do their part to make this work and keep everyone safe, and we’re confident they will do that,” Henning said.