JC level football still alive, kicking

March 31, 2011 

Joe Stinton is not a salesman.

He’s a football coach with a dream.

But he’s savvy enough to know that the best sales pitch is for as many people as possible to see the product, a junior college football team.

That’s why he’s scheduled three out-of-state games in the fall for his South Sound Spartans, playing in North Dakota, Colorado and Oregon.

Next season, the Spartans will play at the Air Force Academy junior varsity, taking on the NCAA Division I team’s freshmen and sophomores. That game should give the Spartans both credibility and visibility.

“We’re trying to get on a national stage,” said Stinton, coach of the Spartans. “We’re trying to get as many eyes as we can on our players. They’re not going to come here to Washington to see them.”

Not yet, at least.

“If we can compete against Air Force, we’ll make a stamp for our league,” Stinton said.

The South Sound Spartans, who will play their third season in the fall, are still in the growing stage. The progress has been gradual. The first goal was, as Stinton says, “kickoff,” playing that first game in 2009. South Sound played six games total in its first and second seasons. The league, the Northwest Junior College Football League, has grown from four teams to five - Tacoma, Green River, Yakima, Columbia Basin and South Sound.

Now, the Spartans are scheduled to play 11 games in the coming season, two against four-year schools.

Besides the Air Force Academy, Stinton booked games at Linfield (an NCAA Division III powerhouse) and at North Dakota State College of Science (a junior college).

“If one of our kids throws for 300 yards or has 16 unassisted tackles, he’s going to get noticed,” Stinton said. “Our goal is to move these kids onto four-year schools. We’re trying to give them that opportunity playing junior college football here in Washington.”

That all takes money. Stinton said games at North Dakota and at the Air Force Academy will cost about $12,000 per trip. He’s hoping to find a sponsor or donations to help cover the costs of the trips.

“We’re going to be doing all kinds of fundraisers,” Stinton said. “We’ll be selling coupon books, cookie dough. Everything. We’ll even do car washes.”

Stinton said South Sound’s roster is made up of players from several schools, including freshmen and sophomores from Saint Martin’s, The Evergreen State College, Centralia College, Grays Harbor College and South Puget Sound College. Stinton said there are even two players from Lower Columbia College. The Spartans are not affiliated with any community college.

“We truly are the South Sound team,” Stinton said.

Stinton will hold a scouting combine at 10 a.m. Saturday open to players wanting to try out at Evergreen’s outdoor pavilion next to the soccer fields. The Spartans will face a Tacoma team in a seven-on-seven passing drill. The fee is $50 to participate.

MCIVER’S GROOVE

Judging from the way he pitched Saturday, it was the batters and not Michael McIver struggling.

But it turns out that after Saint Martin’s 5-1 win and after McIver’s five-hitter over six innings against Central Washington, both were struggling. Central couldn’t score, other than a solo homer – “It was a hanging change,” he explained. And McIver couldn’t throw without some soreness in his back.

“His back has been giving him some trouble,” Saints coach Ken Garland said.

Yet McIver still struck out four and didn’t give up a walk, earning him Great Northwest Athletic Conference pitcher of the week honors.

“Michael continues to pitch consistently like he has done all year,” Garland said.

McIver, a senior and Capital graduate, lowered his ERA to conference-leading 2.55.

With Saint Martin’s four-game sweep of Central over the weekend, SMU improved to 16-13 overall and 13-3 in the GNAC. The Saints remained in first place and made their first appearance in the regional poll, moving into eighth.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 gwood@theolympian.com

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