Welcome, Mr. Helsel

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2006

I’ve made no secret that I am a big fan of Chowan College.

I have supported the Braves on the athletic fields and I have supported the school as a whole.

Because of my love for our only four-year college, I am greeting with optimism the hiring of Dennis Helsel as head of the athletics department at the school. He has a solid background and seems to be a good fit for a college desperately in need of leadership.

I have held my peace about the changes in the athletic department that have been rampant over the years since I have returned to this newspaper, but with a new Athletic Director, now is the time to address some of the problems at the school.

College President Dr. Chris White was candid in his assessment of the program during our discussion as he prepared to search for an AD. He was the one who said the college’s top athletic administrative office had been a revolving door. It has indeed.

Since Jim Garrison’s retirement, there have been more people in that office than I care to count. The last was Jim Tribbett, who led the program through a tough year as they made the steps necessary to become a member of Division II in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

For my part, I have no doubt that Tribbett truly needed to concentrate on basketball. Rumors can be what they are, but he made the right decision for himself, the school and the basketball team. One person can’t be at the helm of a successful basketball team and a college in transition.

Enter into the picture Dennis Helsel, who has administrative experience in abundance. He is a man who should be able to lead a small college into D-II with all the bells and whistles necessary to be successful.

Here, however, are the problems Helsel inherits with the Braves’ athletic program:

1. An athletic department that has had no consistent direction from an athletic director in more than 10 years;

2. A school that has only recently remembered the importance of athletics to the student body;

3. Facilities that are in desperate need of upgrading;

4. An assistant athletic director who is (a) the subordinate of the former athletic director and (b) the husband of another coach in the department;

5. A coaching staff that has failed to unite behind either of the two previous athletic directors;

6. A school that must impress not only the NCAA, but whatever potential conferences are out there in order to gain entrance.

Yes, there are formidable problems awaiting the arrival of Helsel in February. There are no easy answers to the questions above.

The good news for all those situations are they are fixable. Helsel can solve many of them himself by showing the type of leadership that is necessary for any school to be successful.

I am not just negative about what is awaiting the new AD; however, there are an abundance of pluses with the Chowan College job.

A few of the good things awaiting Helsel include:

1. A good group of coaches. Head coaches and assistant coaches alike are solid. (They were better, however, before the inexplicable removal of volleyball coach Becky Roak);

2. There are a few facilities which are in solid condition. They include the Helms Center and the softball and soccer fields;

3. The current Chowan College administration believes in athletics and is committed to bringing success;

4. Football. Having football at Chowan College makes the school better, there’s no doubt about it. Add to that the excellent coaching of head coach Lorick Atkinson, Defensive Coordinator Richard Lage and Offensive Coordinator David Earp and the stock for the program rises;

5. The community truly wants the college and the athletic department to succeed.

Dennis Helsel has accepted one of the best jobs in small college athletics. He has the chance to be the person who goes down in the history of Chowan College as the man who righted the ship.

Here’s hoping he succeeds.