As the oldest institution of higher learning in Alabama, Spring Hill has been a participant to many memorable moments since becoming the first Catholic college in the southeastern United States in 1830. Now another milestone is within reach, as the athletic squads prepare to become members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The Badgers have been a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics since 1959. However, the school’s administration decided to seek NCAA Division II membership in 2012. They were officially notified last summer that their application was accepted.

“This was not something in the works when I arrived in 2009,” Athletic Director Jim Hall told the Lagniappe during an interview in his office at the Arthur Outlaw Recreation Center. “But we recruit nationally in academics and athletics, and there is a lot of prestige to being in the NCAA.

“There are 28 Jesuit colleges in the country, and 26 are in the NCAA. The only two not in were Spring Hill and Loyola in New Orleans. We felt isolated; so we are now re-associating with the others.”

The process to achieve full status in NCAA Division II typically takes several years. Hall said much work continues, as he has two major reports that must be turned in by the end of May.

“The Membership Committee will review these reports,” he said, “and they will see that we are making satisfactory progress. But I won’t relax until I get their phone call in July.”

When the Badgers first made their bid to join the NCAA, they also had to seek a new conference to call home. After looking at several options, Spring Hill selected the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“From the time we started the application, we know the conference inside and out,” Hall said. “The SIAC was the best fit for us in our transition to Division II.”

Founded in 1913, the SIAC is composed of 13 historically black colleges in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Badgers’ new in-state rivals will be Miles College, Stillman College and Tuskegee University.

“The biggest change in going to Division II is that there will be different names on the uniforms,” Hall said. “We can still play our old rivals on a limited basis, but we will have a lot of new rivalries with our fellow SIAC members. And there are many other Division II teams we hope to play, such as West Florida, West Alabama, Alabama-Huntsville and Montevallo.”

Spring Hill currently fields 17 varsity teams. The school added outdoor track and field last year, along with cheer and dance teams. SHC also has men’s and women’s club teams that now represent the school in bowling and rugby.

The Badgers are leaving the NAIA on a tremendous run. The streak started last season, when the women’s softball team finished as the national runner-up with a 49-17 record.

Coach Alison Sellers-Cook’s team has not missed a beat this year, having just captured the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament in Gulf Shores. The Lady Badgers, who are No. 7 in the latest rankings with a 40-12 record, are playing in the first round of the national tourney this week in Oklahoma. A win there will earn them a berth in the NAIA World Series in Columbus, Ga., from May 23-29.

The women’s volleyball team has also racked up some awards, having advanced to the national tournament for the last three years. During Coach Peggy Martin’s five-year tenure, the team has a 142-36 record and a 47-match winning streak in regular season conference play.

In baseball, Coach Frank Sims recorded his 800th career victory this season. For track, the men finished third and the women took fifth in their first SSAC championships.

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None of these accomplishments, though, would be possible without outstanding players. Since the NAIA first started the award in 1979, Spring Hill has had 172 students receive Scholar-Athlete Recognition.

“During my five years, our sports department has seen a steady increase in competition and success,” Hall said. “I expect us to continue this trend. I want us to be more competitive on the regional and national levels.”

Although the Badgers will begin play in Division II in the fall, they will not be eligible for NCAA or SIAC post-season competition until the 2016-17 academic seasons. The transition period requires two years in candidacy status and one provisional year before gaining full membership.

Hall said the move is well worth the wait. The athletic director said joining the NCAA is just part of the process of expanding Spring Hill’s image.

“This is very important for our institution,” he said. “We want to be a model NCAA member. We are putting a lot of care and concern into this.”

While participating in the larger NCAA is an exciting prospect, it is just part of the big picture.

“There are so many exciting things going on at Spring Hill,” Hall said. “Joining the NCAA was not just an athletic decision. This college is expanding its horizons into the future.”