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Gazzolo Column: Sowela's Aspinwall keeping his eye on the ball

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:56 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It may seem a little far-fetched, but there is a man willing to try and bring more sports to Lake Charles.

Dr. Neil Aspinwall, the Sowela Technical Community College Chancellor, would like nothing better than to have sports on his campus, and he would like to do it fairly soon.

“It would be good for the school’s exposure and help people stop thinking of us as just a tech/trade school,” Aspinwall said.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the school already has a mascot.

During a recent open vote in the community, the name Flying Tigers was selected. It seems fitting for a program that is trying to get off the ground.

Despite the tough economic times, Aspinwall said he’s hoping that the expected economic boom that is being talked about for the area can help get a sports program going. Or that his school could benefit from the financial wave.

“Timing is everything,” Aspinwall said. “We have to pick the right time and the right sport to get things started.”

But just who will pay for any new team?

“Anything we do, students will have to pay for,” he said.

That means an added athletic fee of some kind, with help he hopes in the future from booster clubs. Students will likely get a chance to vote on that in the near future.

“It has to be up to them, it is their school,” Aspinwall said.

Through surveys, students have already told the school they would like to see sports become a part of the Sowela landscape. That may begin as intramurals, but plans are bigger than that.

Of course, that is before they saw the sticker price. They also don’t want to see any money ticketed for academics go to sports.

“I would not allow them (academics) to suffer,” Aspinwall said. “We want to make this a positive step for the school and the community. We don’t want to do it fast necessarily, we want to do it right.

“The students might come back and tell us it is not worth it and that would shut things down. But there has been interest shown by both the students and the community.”

Sports is just part of Aspinwall’s plan to change the image of his school.

“Our goal is to make our campus a true community college atmosphere,” he said. “We want this to be a place of pride for students to talk about and one way to do that is to upgrade the facilities.

“Another way, I believe, is through sports.”

Sports become a window to a school, a way for people to get a look at something they otherwise would pay little attention to.

“A good athletic program gets people talking more about you,” Aspinwall said. “It brings people onto your campus who would normally never give you a second look. It opens up some eyes and gets you a lot of attention.”

It could become one of the school’s bigger selling points if done right.

“What we really want to do is give our students a full college experience,” Aspinwall added.

He has done this before, having served as Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services at Waycross (Ga.) College, when that school started a sports program.

“The community really got behind us and took to the teams,” Aspinwall said. “And the students, they loved it.”

Ah, but still the question is, Will they pay for it?

“It is up to them in the end,” he said.

Starting slow will be the key. Maybe it will be baseball or basketball the first year. Not taking on too much too fast will help keep cost down.

While it is still a few years away, Aspinwall said he hopes that along with LSU and McNeese State T-shirts being worn around town, there might just be a few that say Flying Tigers.

“That would be nice to see,” he said.

Aspinwall said he hopes that a few shirts could lead to a brighter future for Sowela.

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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

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