Lee College fights perception as Region XIV play begins

By Alan Dale | Courtesy of the Baytown Sun

It’s full steam ahead for Lee College athletes as it pertains to getting back on the court for the fall of 2021.

Both the basketball and volleyball team are in the midst of preparing to get respective rosters together following the shut down of athletics for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the majority of other Region XIV teams begin competition. 

“All the coaches are out there actively recruiting for the upcoming season and nothing has changed from our original statement that we were suspending athletics for one year due to the pandemic,” Lee College athletic director Graeme Cox said. “Some of the coaches are saying they are hearing some weird things out there that really disappoints me that other people are talking smack and don’t even know what’s going on.

“Maybe that’s the world we live in now. I don’t understand why people would think that when we haven’t made an announcement and the coaches would not be recruiting and we wouldn’t be paying them to recruit a team if we weren’t going to have a team.”

Cox said the main issue is the rhetoric floating around that Lee College had or was planning to cut their athletic programs.

Roy Champagne, the men’s basketball coach, confirmed at least one recruit has hesitated on signing with the school until he knows for sure if the Rebels will play in the fall.

“Right now, it’s not shaping up good at all,” Champagne said. “We are actively recruiting, and there are kids interested in coming, but they are leery if there is a season, a team, or a program next year. That’s coming from them. Once perception becomes reality to them …

“Yes, we are actively recruiting and we actively recruited last year and we didn’t have a team and the season is being played. That’s the issue. Why go to Lee when you can go to 12 other schools in Region XIV that are playing?”

Champagne doesn’t know for sure where that stimulus is being created, but it could come from a lack of information put out since June from the college or his competitors could be disseminating such information as well.

“We have only put out one statement,” Champagne said. “I have been recruiting long enough and I know what tools (coaches) use and how they go about it.”

Champagne confirmed he has offered out a scholarship that is yet to be signed basically due to a wait-and-see approach.

Cox said the pandemic can still potentially change plans, saying, “you don’t know what’s going to happen, but we are moving forward and are optimistic that the vaccine is going to work and enough people will take the vaccine and the community is protected. We are just charging forward.”

Cox said the school is moving forward in its housing plans for athletes and upgrades being made to make sure that is a go.

“We are doing everything we can,” Cox said.

Essix has also been working the recruiting trail and said she has signed one player for next season, adding Texas City middle blocker Ashlynn Lewis, to the roster which still includes Barbers Hill alum Kylee Kejonen who remained at the school.

“I am doing my best to build the spots that I need to replace the players who transferred,” Essix said. “I would agree with Roy. It’s kind of like the players are holding out committing to see if they get another offer. Division I’s are not really recruiting right now.

“Junior colleges should get a lot of good players this year, but players are holding out to see if they get a Division I offer and that’s where I see some of the hesitation on my end.

The NCAA is currently playing the second half of its campaign,  backlogging many recruiting efforts.
“I am going off of what the administration told me,” Essix said. “They are saying they are planning to have a season and allowing us to recruit and to sign players. But it’s pretty fair for the players to feel that way as well because they want to play.”

Champagne has been teaching more classes and trying to recruit as much as he can. He also confirmed he is mulling the possibility of retirement. 

“I am eligible to retire as of May,” Champagne said. “I’ll be 52 years old this year, but I can coach until I am 75.”

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee receives $10,000 grant from Jay and Kay Eshbach Foundation

From left, Lee College President Dr. Lynda Villanueva, Kay Eshbach, and Lori Eshbach Comanich. (Photo by The Baytown Sun.)

Lee College recently received a $10,000 donation from the Jay and Kay Eshbach Foundation to help students manage financial challenges through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The gift will go directly to the Lee Cares emergency fund. It will provide Lee College students funding to help cover the cost of necessary expenses that could prevent them from finishing their education, such as medical costs, housing, childcare and food insecurities.

“We are extremely grateful for this generous donation from the Jay and Kay Eshbach Foundation,” said Dr. Lynda Villanueva, Lee College president. “As a public-serving institution, Lee College decided early on during the pandemic that we would do whatever it took to help all students succeed during this strenuous time. Because of this selfless gift, we are now that much closer to achieving that which we’ve set out to do.”

Jay Eshbach, president of the Jay and Kay Eshbach Foundation and founder of Eshbach Retirement Planning in Baytown, hopes this donation will help Lee College students overcome financial barriers to achieve their higher education goals.   

“One of the Eshbach Foundation’s core values is to be there when people need us,” he said. “We hope during these difficult times, the grant will help to keep hard-working students on the path toward graduation, even in the midst of many financial pressures.”  

So far, more than $150,000 in private donations to the Lee Cares emergency fund has been distributed to students who need help paying for basic needs as the result of job losses or other financial difficulties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Current Lee College students can apply for Lee Cares scholarships online at https://lee.academicworks.com/opportunities/11144.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.