GRANTS PASS — A simple phone call helped former Hidden Valley soccer player Tori Fretz extend her career.
The telephonic connection was a no-brainer for John Timlin, who has taken on the tall role of leading Rogue Community College's first sports teams.
WHAT: The school created club programs that are competing in nonleague matches while operating without the assistance of any general funds.
What has taken some deep thought has been the creation and maintenance of the soccer clubs. For those involved, the effort has been worth it.
"We are not going to know if we are a success for five or 10 years," coach Timlin says. "Then we will see that these kids have all graduated and are all productive members of society."
Fretz and other athletes — mostly from Josephine County — are competing at the nonleague club level for a program that must support itself financially with player fees and fundraising.
The hope, Timlin says, is for the program to one day join the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges and have players representing high schools throughout the Rogue Valley.
Plenty must be done between now and then.
In the meantime, Timlin and his teams — 15 men and 14 women — are having to get creative to keep their soccer dream alive.
The RCC Board of Education approved the formation after community members, including Timlin, approached the school in January.
The clubs have been approved for one year, giving the school time to measure students' interest in them.
"It was a big decision," says Kori Bieber, vice president of student services and a former NCAA Division I volleyball player at Rice. "The board reviewed a lot of data on student graduation rates because of eligibility requirements. What they found is that student athletes are a good investment as far as graduation rates and persistence plans go. Student athletes tend to make graduation and good academic standing priorities so they can participate in sports."
The season is already underway for the Ospreys, which is the school mascot. Participants have practiced on the field at the RCC Redwood Campus and, every other week, in Medford. Work is being done on the field in Grants Pass and it has not been used for matches this year, Timlin says. Instead, Mel Ingram Field and the field at Parkside Elementary will host contests.
The men play at Willamette University on Saturday before two home matches conclude the season: the squad hosts Chemeketa Community College on Oct. 19 at Mel Ingram Field and Columbia Gorge Community College on Oct. 26 at Parkside Elementary.
The women also face Willamette on Saturday before wrapping up with a road match against Lane Community College (Oct. 14) and a home date with Columbia Gorge on Oct. 26 at Parkside.
"We can't thank (Grants Pass athletic director) Clay Rounsaville enough," Timlin says.
Each player paid a fee of $250 to participate, which has helped pay for expenses including field maintenance, travel and lodging and equipment. They must be enrolled full-time at RCC and maintain good academic standing, Bieber says.
Seven players are from Medford.
Open-field play began in the spring and tryouts were in August.
"These kids who have been playing and showing up to practices — to make this happen — it's been amazing," Timlin says.
Fretz graduated from Hidden Valley this year and is a freshman at RCC. The Grants Pass resident received a call from Timlin around July, during a period when the stopper/sweeper was still trying to decide what was next in her future.
"John remembered me playing at Hidden Valley and asked me to come out and play," the aspiring dental hygienist says. "I was really stoked about it. 'Hey, why not?' I tried it.
"Everyone is just here for the game. They really want to play."
Ernest Espinoza, a member of the men's team, graduated from Grants Pass in 2008. The 23-year-old did not play soccer in high school, but thought it would be enjoyable to do it now.
He had been working at a collection agency full-time, but switched to part-time to accommodate his school and soccer schedule.
"Since I missed the opportunity in high school, I decided in college to try it out," the hopeful engineer says.
Timlin has coached 16 years at levels from kindergarten through age 19, including a lengthy stint at North Valley.
"The most enjoyable thing for me is working with the students," Timlin says. "And coaching is my passion."
The marketing of the clubs has been a challenge, but it has become easier as local high school players have taken notice, Timlin says.
"We are recruiting for next year," he says. "That is the beauty of having the program rolling. That is why we started the entire thing. We have so many high schools in the valley. ...(At North Valley), I was sending kids to Chemeketa, Lane and SWOCC and thinking, 'Why don't we have a team at RCC?'"
The school board will make a preliminary decision in January on whether or not to bring back the clubs next year, Bieber says. If a second year is approved, the board would need to decide whether to keep playing nonleague club matches or enter the NWAACC, which requires a $6,000 annual fee.
One of the best moments of the season, Timlin says, was a visit the teams made to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland this past weekend. The men and women delivered gifts to patients there.
"I don't take myself too seriously," he says. "I love to win, but it's bigger than the game. Our team motto is to make a positive impact. That is on and off the field. Regardless of the scoreboard, it doesn't define us. What defines us is how we get back up."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him online at facebook.com/danjonesmt