By David Elwell Sports Writer Jul 15, 2017 Updated Jul 15, 2017
Calhoun Community College athletic director and softball coach Nancy Keenum spent Friday afternoon riding her bike on the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia.
During breaks on the ride, she contacted girls who are joining the program in August or have committed to the school for 2018. Keenum wanted to make sure they had heard the news that broke earlier in the day. Calhoun is shutting down its athletic program after the 2017-18 school year.
"While I'm in Georgia, I think I will buy a lottery ticket, if the good Lord will forgive me," Keenum said. "Maybe I can win enough money to save an athletic program."
Calhoun President Jim Klauber announced Friday that because of required reductions in the college's operating budget, the decision had been made to close the athletic program effective at the end of the 2018 spring semester. Sports affected are softball, baseball and men's and women's golf.
Keenum and baseball coach Mike Burns were told Tuesday. All athletes and coaches were supposed to receive the official word by mail Friday. Current student athletes have been given the option to remain with the college for the last season. All scholarship commitments will be honored. Those choosing to transfer to another institution will be released from their Calhoun commitment.
"We're expecting to have a great season," Burns said. "We have a lot of sophomores coming back and a great group coming in. We're going to pull together and have a lot of fun."
Since its inception in the 1960s under coaching legend Fred Frickie, Calhoun's baseball program has been one of the best in the state. Several former players went on to play professional baseball, including Burns. Tanner's Gary Redus starred with the Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Pirates and Rangers from 1982-94. New York Yankees great Jorge Posada played at Calhoun in 1990 and 1991.
Two former Warhawks are currently pitching in the major leagues: J.J. Hoover, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Buddy Boshers, with the Minnesota Twins.
This is not the first time the door has been closed on the Calhoun athletic program. Then-President Richard Carpenter shut down the program in May 2001 as part of budget cuts. The athletic program at the time had baseball, softball, men's basketball and women's basketball.
"That time we were told on one day and it was shut down on the next," Keenum said. "At least this time we get to have a final season."
Four years later, state postsecondary education Chancellor Roy Johnson brought the program back in the 2005-06 school year with baseball and softball. Men's and women's golf were added this past school year.
"It's hard for me to believe that I have had to go through this twice," Keenum said. "I feel bad for the athletes who are new to the program this year and the ones who have committed to the program for 2018. They chose Calhoun for a reason.
"Instead of recruiting for our next signing class, we'll spend our time helping players find a new home after next season."
Keenum has 11 new players joining the program in August and eight who will graduate from high school in 2018 who have committed to sign this fall.
"I hate it for everybody," said incoming freshman Briley Terry, who played at Decatur. "I'm still looking forward to next season at Calhoun. The ones I really feel bad for are the girls graduating in 2018 who want to play at Calhoun. I met some of them at Calhoun's softball camp on June 20. They were really excited about Calhoun."
Hartselle's Hayden Bradford is one of the top sophomores returning for Calhoun's baseball team. The list of incoming freshmen baseball players includes Decatur's Jackson Lovelace, Charlie Crane and LaDarius Woods, along with Austin's Colt Dozier and Ardmore's Seth Underwood.
"I plan on playing for Calhoun and making the most of it," Dozier said. "I was shocked when I heard the news. It's hard to believe."
Calhoun athletics has a strong connection with area coaches because many of them played for the Warhawks. Hartselle softball coach Christy Ferguson played basketball at Calhoun, and Keenum was her coach.
"It's not the number of fans that come to the games that's important," Ferguson said. "What's important are the opportunities you give these kids. It can change their lives in many positive ways. I don't understand why anyone would want to stop that from happening."