NELSONVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A small community college in Ohio is banking on its newly created football team to boost school spirit and enrollment. In turn, its starting quarterback — a former high school player convicted in a notorious rape case — is banking on this school that took him when others wouldn’t.
But though the team is rolling over opponents thanks in large part to its star quarterback, not everyone on campus is impressed. In tiny Nelsonville, criticism over the creation of the team and allowing Trent Mays to play on it has hung a shadow over the team’s early success.
Hocking College’s new president, Betty Young, hoped that adding football and other sports would help reverse declining enrollment and make people feel better about the beleaguered technical school in rural southeastern Ohio, nationally known for producing forest rangers.
The campus police chief, Al Matthews, had convinced Young that football, cheerleading and other sports would attract more tuition-paying students, generate revenue and raise the profile of the 3,400-student college. Matthews agreed to be the volunteer head coach, and Mays contacted him about joining the team earlier this year.
Mays, now 19, spent two years in a juvenile lockup after he and another high school player in Steubenville were convicted of a raping a 16-year-old girl at a party in 2012. The case drew national media attention in part because of the role of texting and social media in exposing the attack, which led to allegations that authorities were covering up the actions of players on the city’s revered football team.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Matthews said, adding that because Hocking is an open-enrollment school, Mays was free to attend and join the football team if he met the same basic criteria as every other student.
A handful of small U.S. colleges add football programs every year with generally happy results. But some Hocking faculty and students wondered why sports were necessary at a two-year technical school in Appalachia that has been plagued with minor scandals, low staff morale and a budget crisis that led to three dozen layoffs earlier this year.
“I believe most of us like the idea of a football team,” said student Isobel Hutchinson, 22. “However, there are just so many other issues on campus that were kind of thrown to the side when this football team was created.”
The inclusion of Mays on the team, she said, has led to “nervousness” on campus. An avalanche of social media postings about Mays’ participation have been more pointed and angry.
Then, just as classes started this fall, a report of a sexual assault in one of the dorms put the administration into crisis mode amid assertions by some students that officials weren’t taking it seriously enough. Prosecutors are investigating, but no charges have been filed. (The school has said Mays was not involved but won’t say whether other football players were.) The handling of the case and other issues generated student demonstrations outside Young’s office last week.