Students at the University of the Cumberlands will soon be able to play video games as a varsity sport.
This year e-sports, or video gaming, is being started as a club sport.
“It is catching on across the country. A lot of schools have added it. We are going to start it at the club level this year and turn it into a varsity sport for next year,” University of the Cumberlands Athletic Director Chris Kraftick told the Williamsburg Kiwanis Club during a recent address.
“Some people will argue whether it is a sport. It is different. I am excited about it. I think it gives more variety to our department. Those kids take it very seriously.”
When he started his address during the Kiwanis Club’s Aug. 10 monthly meeting, Kraftick noted that he already knew what nearly everyone wanted to know about, which is the new artificial turf field that was recently installed at the James H. Taylor II Stadium.
“It was needed. It’s already been a game changer for us,” Kraftick noted.
For instance, the turf field allowed the football and soccer teams to practice on multiple days this month even after heavy rains. Last year, many of those practice sessions would have been canceled due to poor field conditions.
“In recruiting it has been a game changer for us,” he added.
The turf is expected to last about 10 years.
Kraftick said that most of the heavy work was underneath the field getting it ready for the artificial surface, so changing the turf in a decade won’t be as big of a deal.
“It’s been an exciting summer. It was a great year for us last year on the field and in the classroom. Our entire athletic GPA for all of our athletes was 2.99, which was the highest it has been in years. Our goal was 3.0. We were right there,” Kraftick said.
“We had 16 teams of our 27 last year that were NAIA Scholar Athlete teams. Our retention numbers are higher than they have ever been. I think a lot of that is due to the facility renovations and all the things going on campus.”
Kraftick also noted other recent improvements this summer.
The school recently added a bowling lane at the Rollins Center in an area that was formerly used as an indoor softball-batting cage.
Kraftick said the addition was needed after the closure of Forest Lanes bowling alley in Corbin because bowling team members were having to drive an hour one-way just to practice in Somerset.
In addition, the parking lot for the baseball and soccer fields has been paved, and new scoreboards were installed in the main gym at the Rollins Center.
To better manage all the schools outdoor sporting facilities, the university named Brad Shelton as the director of outdoor athletic facilities.
About 750 students at UC participate in sports or more than 50 percent of the undergraduate student body.
Kraftick added that the school had six student athletes named Mid South Conference Champions of Character last year.
“This is a big deal,” Kraftick said. “We had some kids doing some amazing things in the community and on campus.”
Champions of Character winners included: Jessica Severs for volleyball, Blair Barger for women’s cross country, Brad Paynter for men’s bowling, Maggie Ballou for cheerleading, Ben Call for men’s track, and Samantha Moses for women’s track.
Kraftick added that his goal is to get every sports program to a level where it can be competitive.
“Golf, tennis, cross country and bowling are just as important as football, basketball and baseball,” he said.
Kraftick noted that the school has never won an NAIA team championship, but the chances of that happening are improving.
“Men’s wrestling is doing an excellent job. They will open the year in the top three in the country. They have a legitimate chance to win a national championship this year as a team,” Kraftick said.
Last spring, seven sporting programs participated in national tournaments.
This summer, the university was named as the host for the 2017-2018 MSC Women’s Wrestling Championship, the MSC Archery Outdoor Championship, and the AAC Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Championship.
The university’s lacrosse program is only in its third year of existence, and both the men’s and women’s teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally.