Each year baseball teams come from all over the country to Grand Junction to play in a week-long tournament, but why?
What’s it all about? Why does it seem the whole community shows up to watch these ballplayers from who knows where?
The Alpine Bank Junior College World Series isn’t just any baseball tournament.
It’s the national championship tournament for the National Junior College Athletic Association.
“The tournament is officially listed as the NJCAA Division I Baseball Championship in our membership information and in our publications,” NJCAA Associate Executive Director Mark Krug said. “In Grand Junction this event is known as ‘JUCO’.
“I think it is good for your readers to know that ‘JUCO’ is the NJCAA Division I Baseball Championship.”
Every year some 200 Division I baseball teams in the NJCAA compete for the right to grab one of 10 spots in Grand Junction to play for this national championship event.
The NJCAA is the governing body of two-year college athletics.
“It is the second-largest national intercollegiate athletic organization in the United States with over 500 member schools in 43 states,” Krug said. “Each year over 50,000 student-athletes compete in one of 28 different sports and the organization sponsors 48 national championship events and nine football bowl games each year.
“Baseball is one of the most popular sports in the NJCAA when looking at participation numbers. Last year 400 teams and some 10,950 student-athletes participated in three divisions of NJCAA baseball.”
The first NJCAA national baseball championship took place in 1958 in Miami, Okla., but the tournament struggled to draw public interest, in part because of inclement weather.
A group of baseball advocates from Grand Junction watched the tournament and put in a bid to bring the tournament to Grand Junction the following year. That group included Duane “D.S.” Dykstra, Jay Tolman, Dale Hollingsworth, Bill Fanning, Gene Rozelle, Owen Taylor and Gene Taylor.
As part of the marketing strategy, the group started referencing the tournament as the JUCO World Series.
“It’s slang for junior college,” current Tournament Chairman Jamie Hamilton said. “It happened in the 1960s referring to junior colleges. My understanding it was part of the JUCO Committee that used it and tried to brand it. It became accepted.”
In 1992, the NJCAA divided baseball into three divisions, based on scholarship levels, like the National Collegiate Athletics Association.
Division I programs have a maximum scholarship allotment for tuition, fees, room, board, course-related books and transportation costs. Division II programs have scholarship money available for players for tuition, fees and books, but not room and board. Division III programs have no athletic scholarship aid available of any kind.
The branding of JUCO was quickly adopted by the Western Slope and in the junior college ranks, although it’s not a household word everywhere.
“We know what it is,” Hamilton said. “They may not know on a national level, they may not even know about it in Denver, and that’s all right. It’s ours.”