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A LETTER-WRITING CAMPAIGN FOR GRIDIRON

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St. George community leaders plan a letter-writing campaign aimed at convincing the State Board of Regents of the value of Dixie College's football program to the community.

"Initially, we just plan to write letters and see what reaction comes from that. However, if we see a further threat, there has been discussion of going beyond that (writing letters) to contacting (state) senators and representatives to really let them know the feelings of the community," said Randy Wilkinson, acting chairman of the Dixie College Institutional Council.Wilkinson said St. George government leaders and members of the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club have told him that they will write supportive letters before the next regents meeting. The State Board of Regents will decide its 1990-91 budget priorities at an Oct. 19 session in Price.

It was at the regents' September budget hearings that the issue of football at the state's two-year colleges surfaced. Regent Ian Cumming questioned Dixie College President Douglas Alder and other college presidents about their intercollegiate athletic programs, particularly football.

The regents asked that they be given an update of intercollegiate athletic costs at Utah's nine colleges and universities.

Dixie and Snow are the state's two-year colleges that offer football as part of intercollegiate athletics. Two years ago, with an unsuccessful football program and a growing need for more academic funds, the College of Eastern Utah eliminated its $150,000 football program, cannibalizing the funds for other programs.

At Utah Valley Community College, a recent student poll showed that 69 percent of the students want football and are willing to increase their student fees to pay for it. Football is in the discussion-only stage there.

President O.D. Carnahan said football will never be on Salt Lake Community College's agenda if it would divert money from academics. SLCC acquired the old South High last year for a downtown campus, and the college will tear down the high school football stadium to make room for a parking lot, said Carnahan.

Higher Education Commissioner Wm. Rolfe Kerr said the football issue was raised "solely to find out what resources are available" and the discussion doesn't mean that football at the two-year schools will be on the regents' chopping block.

"The regents strictly have the authority to eliminate football, but that isn't something that would happen without study, examination and assessing the feelings of the community," Kerr said.

The feelings in St. George are intense, Wilkinson and Alder said.

Wilkinson, who helped found the original Dixie Rotary Football Bowl three years ago, said there would be "a major uprising in the community" if Dixie football gets the boot and the letter-writing campaign is an attempt to "nip in the bud" any such thoughts.

The December bowl game, now called the Sunbrook Dixie Rotary Bowl, brings in nationally ranked junior college teams who play to a packed stadium. Wilkinson called it one of the premier events in St. George, saying the proceeds are used for projects in the community and at the college.

The college president, who has been deluged with phone calls from Dixie boosters about the regents' meeting, said "people want the board (of regents) to understand that they have worked 50 years to get these fine programs."

The 75-year-old college established its football program in 1935.