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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown MAKING THE JUMP: From left, National Park College men's basketball team head coach Jason Hudnell, women's team leading scorer Faith Bratton and men's team leading scorer Braylon Steen addressed the NPC Board of Trustees Wednesday during their monthly meeting in the Gerald Fisher Campus Center. The board approved the college's membership to the NJCAA after one season of competing in basketball at the club level.

The National Park College Board of Trustees approved a resolution on Wednesday to join the National Junior College Athletic Association after one year of competing at the club sports level.

The school rebranded to National Park College with a new color scheme of blue, gray, white and black in the spring of 2015. Members of the board, faculty, staff, community and students worked together to select the Nighthawk as the school's new mascot in the fall of 2016.

The board approved the development of an athletic program a year ago. Students were recruited for a men's basketball team, women's basketball team and a cheer team. The basketball teams adhered to the rules and regulations of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association.

The NJCAA includes more than 520 schools organized into 24 regions across the country. The Nighthawks will compete in Division II, along with the North Arkansas College Pioneers in Harrison and the Arkansas State University Mid-South Greyhounds in West Memphis. The Arkansas Baptist College Buffaloes in Little Rock also compete in NJCAA.

National Park College will immediately begin membership in the NJCAA's Region structure in the 2018-19 academic year. The organization offers a structure for competitive intercollegiate participation within a national compliance framework that is monitored and recorded by the association.

Student-athletes and teams are eligible to receive regional and national honors in athletics and academics. After one year, teams are eligible for regional, district and national tournament qualification.

The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown NIGHTHAWK LINEUP: Members of the National Park College men's basketball team, along with members of the women's basketball team and the cheer team, attended the college's Board of Trustees monthly meeting on Wednesday in the Gerald Fisher Campus Center. The board approved the addition of basketball a year ago at the club level.

The men's team included student-athletes from Bryant, Cutter Morning Star, Gravette, Hope, Hot Springs, Lake Hamilton, North Little Rock, Pea Ridge, West Memphis and Umpire. Braylon Steen, a 6-6 forward from Bryant, led the team with 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

"I would like to say it is an honor and a privilege to be a Nighthawk here," Steen said. "I feel like we tried our best the first year to make a name for ourselves, and I think we accomplished that."

Steen thanked members of the board on behalf of the men's team, which finished 12-5. The Nighthawks were 10-2 after the holiday break and opted not to participate in the NIRSA regional competition, which is primarily designed for intramural teams.

Hot Springs alum Berniezha Tidwell was named to the NJCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team Saturday in Harrison. NorthArk hosted the Division II national tournament at Pioneer Pavilion.

Tidwell averaged 15.3 points per game this season for Highland Community College (35-1) in Kansas. The Scotties finished third place in the country after beginning the season 34-0.

Tidwell said she believed high school athletes in and around Hot Springs and the Garland County area are often overlooked. She said National Park College could provide a beneficial platform for local graduates.

"I think it will give high school girls and boys somewhere they can play JUCO, play in front of coaches, get seen and go somewhere," Tidwell said. "I think it will be a really good situation.

"I kind of wish it was there when I was in high school. I could have gone there and all of my family could have watched me. It would have been really cool."

Division I programs such as Missouri, Louisiana, San Francisco and Seton Hall were on hand last week in Harrison to scout potential players. Tidwell's coach, B.J. Smith, has seen former players move on to teams such as Oklahoma, DePaul, Arkansas State and Memphis.

Smith said Highland's leading scorer, Mariane De Caravalho, attracted interest from programs such as Mississippi State and South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference. Tidwell said she is considering returning to the state for her final two seasons, with Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Arkansas in Magnolia as possible destinations.

The women's basketball team was coached by Bob Kissire and included student-athletes from Bismarck, Fountain Lake, Jessieville, Kirby, Lake Hamilton, Malvern and Mountain Pine. Faith Bratton, of Jessieville, led the team in scoring, with 20.8 points per game, as well as rebounding and assists.

"Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the Lady Nighthawks basketball team," Bratton said. "I am looking forward to next year being part of the NJCAA basketball association."

Hudnell announced Wednesday Marvin Moody, an employee of the Hot Springs School District, will take over as the new coach of the women's team. Moody volunteered as an assistant for the Nighthawks this season. He will work with the athletic program on a part-time basis and remain an employee with Hot Springs.

"We are excited to have Marvin be part of Nighthawk Nation," Hudnell said. "Marvin actually played for the Garland County Community College Lakers."

"It is fun to have someone that was a part of our past to come and lead us into the future," Hudnell added.

NPC President John Hogan said joining the NJCAA is a beneficial opportunity for the college. The stated mission of the NJCAA is "to foster a national program of athletic participation in an environment that supports equitable opportunities consistent with the educational objectives of member colleges."

"The lessons learned from this year are that there are significant benefits of being part of NJCAA, both in terms of student-athletes and the attention the college will be able to receive," Hogan said. "Many community colleges are going in this direction.

"I think the most important reason to do it is the men and women you just heard from really want to take that step. It is a very small monetary investment, and we expect a significant return."

Hogan noted the cost of membership to the NJCAA is set and does not fluctuate based on the number of sports teams or student-athletes.

"That will give us the chance to build at our own pace, much as we talked about in terms of our strategy for student athletics," Hogan said.

The Nighthawk cheer team was coached by Ricki Rebollar and included student-athletes from Arkadelphia, Cutter Morning Star, Glen Rose, Hot Springs, Lake Hamilton and Mountain Pine.

Sports on 03/29/2018

Print Headline: NPC to join junior college sports organization

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