TOURNAMENT TIMELINE: Take a trip through time at JUCO
It’s been 59 years since, as legend has it, NJCAA Executive Director George Killian asked, “Where in the hell is Grand Junction, Colorado?”
Little did Killian know in October of 1958, that Grand Junction, Colorado, would become the home to one of the premier NJCAA championships for decades.
From the time the NJCAA started studying the feasibility of a national baseball championship in 1955, to the first weather-plagued attempt three years later in Oklahoma, the NJCAA National Junior College Baseball World Series, aka JUCO, has flourished in Grand Junction. Some of the significant events over the past 60 years of the tournament:
1958: The first NJCAA baseball national championship tournament is played in Miami, Oklahoma. It’s an eight-team single-elimination tournament, officially called the NJCAA National Invitational Baseball Tournament. Rain plagues the tournament, hurting attendance, even though the hometown school, Northeastern Oklahoma, reaches the championship game. Cameron State, Oklahoma, wins the title 9-7.
1958: Jay Tolman, dean of students and athletic director at Mesa College and chair of the NJCAA baseball committee, and baseball coach Bus Bergman discuss bidding to host the national tournament. Tolman contacts D.S. “Dyke” Dykstra, the chairman of the Education-Athletic Committee of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce. Wheels are set in motion, financial backing and support secured. Dykstra and Tolman take a train to NJCAA headquarters in Hutchinson, Kansas, and convince officials to award Grand Junction the tournament on a one-year trial basis, with Mesa College an automatic entry to ensure crowd support.
May 21, 1959: The first game is played at Lincoln Park Stadium. Seven teams, plus Mesa College, are in the field, but one qualifier, Montgomery JC of Maryland, can’t come up with its share of travel money and withdraws. Trinidad, Colorado, replaces Montgomery. Rain washes out three games.
May 22, 1959: Billy DeBruhl throws the first (and only) no-hitter in tournament history, leading Wilmington, North Carolina, to a 6-0 win over Carbon, Utah. It’s a seven-inning no-no. Because of the rain on opening day, seven games are jammed into one day, with each game shortened to seven innings to get back on schedule.
May 24, 1959: Paris Junior College, Texas, wins first NJCAA championship game at Lincoln Park, defeating Northeastern Oklahoma A&M 14-4. That fall, Grand Junction is awarded another one-year contract.
1961: After two successful years, Grand Junction awarded a five-year contract to host the NJCAA baseball championship tournament.
1962: Major League Baseball contributes $3,000 to help with team travel. The Coca-Cola Company had donated $1,500 since the first year for travel expenses. MLB’s donation became an annual windfall.
1970: Mesa vs. Mesa for the national title. Mesa Community College of Arizona defeats the hometown Mavericks 8-0 in front of 5,000 at Lincoln Park, which was a standing-room-only crowd.
1974: Mesa College plays in its final NJCAA tournament as it transitions to a four-year school. After the first few years, the Mavericks had to qualify for the tournament, and in all made 13 appearances, playing in the championship game three times, but losing all three.
1977: The growing NJCAA expands the national tournament from eight to 10 teams. Five games are played each of the first two days, with the fifth game finishing well after midnight.
1982: Kirby Puckett electrifies the crowds in each of Triton College’s games, finishing with a record-setting .688 batting average before his team is eliminated. Puckett goes 11 for 16 with three doubles, three triples and seven RBI in four games for his team from River Grove, Illinois. His tournament batting average has been matched three times since.
1985: San Jacinto College-North, of Houston, Texas, wins the first of its three straight championships.
1986: A new bracket is adopted, ending five-game days, but two teams don’t play until the second night of the tournament, so two teams are eliminated before two play.
1990: San Jacinto College-North wins a record fifth JUCO World Series championship. The Gators lost in the 1988 championship game, winning five titles in a six-year span.
1992: NJCAA goes to three divisions in baseball. Grand Junction awarded the right to host the Division I tournament.
1996: Jay Tolman dies at the age of 83. He was in the inaugural class of the Junior College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1982.
1989: Prime Sports Network televises JUCO World Series for the first time.
1999: Alpine Bank becomes title sponsor, with the tournament’s official name the Alpine Bank National Junior College Baseball World Series.
2002: Sam Suplizio announces his retirement as JUCO chairman after 33 years; he was on the original committee, serving as the director of tournament play until taking over as chairman in 1970.
2003: Jamie Hamilton, director of tournament play since 1986, becomes JUCO’s fifth chairman.
2004: George Killian retires as NJCAA executive director, a post he held since 1969. Wayne Baker becomes executive director. Baker resigns in 2009, with Mary Ellen Leicht replacing Baker.
2007: JUCO World Series celebrates 50 years with its Golden Anniversary team. The manager is Wayne Graham of San Jacinto, with Bus Bergman of Mesa College the bench coach.
2010: JUCO receives 25-year contract to continue as host of NJCAA Division I baseball championship. … Bus Bergman, a key figure in bringing the tournament to Grand Junction and a longtime coach at Mesa College, dies at the age of 89. The “Coach of the Tournament” award is named in his honor.
2012: The Lincoln Park Tower opens in May, the result of a yearlong $8.3 million renovation project at the stadium. The project includes new dugouts, first-base seats and outfield fence at the baseball field, new stands on the east side of the football stadium and a redesigned entrance and concourse with expanded concessions and new restrooms. The Tower is a three-story complex that overlooks both fields, with an open-air mezzanine, a state-of-the-art press level and a hospitality suite that is used year-round at games and private events.
2014: 33,181 fans attend games on Memorial Day, a single-day record.
2017: The NJCAA Division I baseball tournament celebrates its 60th year, 59 in Grand Junction. Mary Ellen Leicht retires as NJCAA executive director.
Sources: NJCAA, Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department, JUCO World Series archives, Daily Sentinel archives