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Beacon College has taken a significant step forward in the evolution of the school’s athletics program — and its desire to attract student-athletes with learning and attention issues to campus — with its recent admission into a national small-college intercollegiate athletic league.

The college, which over the past several years had ramped up its competition against Florida colleges and club teams, on March 29 was accepted as a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA).

The USCAA is a national governing body that facilitates competitive sports between similarly-sized and similarly-resourced small colleges. That means schools compete on a more even playing field. Competition culminates in national championships and student-athlete recognition.

“As part of the college’s strategic plan through 2025, Beacon is devoted to better rounding out its athletic, fitness, and wellness programming of which the move to intercollegiate athletics is a part,” said George J. Hagerty, Beacon president. “As Beacon has moved up in the competitive rankings, the college now is going head-to-head in admissions with institutions that provide an intercollegiate outlet…. Acceptance into the USCAA will bolster pride in the institution, further reputational recognition, and bolster the college’s ability to become more competitive in recruiting new students.”

Not only does the admission in the league establish the college as part of an established and structured organization, but Gabe Watson, Beacon director of fitness and athletics, said it helps achieve the college’s goal for athletics of being “on the same plane to make for an equally competitive atmosphere and I think we’re making steps in that direction.”

Steps down that path began about three years ago. That’s when the Beacon Board of Trustees broached the idea of competitive athletics at the college. As the college began to envision sports beyond the intramural level, the college hired Watson two years ago with the charge to build a competitive intercollegiate athletics program. He explored opportunities at the NCAA division II level but the cost was prohibitive.

More research led to the USCAA, a league that “checked all the boxes,” for a fledgling sports program, he said.

It has “a very good understanding of where we’re at and where we’re trying to go and they are very accommodating in the introductory process,” Watson said.

Currently, the USCAA recognizes men’s golf, cross country, women’s volleyball, soccer, football, softball, baseball, wrestling, and division I and II basketball.

Beacon will enter the USCAA approved to compete in league play in men’s and women’s basketball and cross country.

The college last year attracted former NBA star and head coach Sam Vincent to build a men’s basketball program. Beacon now is recruiting a seasoned women’s basketball coach. Assistant director of fitness and athletics Tony Wrice will oversee men’s and women’s cross-country, track, and tennis.

“This is a super exciting and proud moment for Beacon basketball,” said Sam Vincent, Beacon men’s basketball coach. “Our team will be challenged and become stronger by facing great competition on a high level. This experience will grow athletes on and off the court in immeasurable ways that will have a long term, positive impact.”

As for recruitment, finding neurodivergent student-athletes to sport the Beacon jersey just became a bit easier, Watson agreed.

“As we take a step into the recruiting process it definitely provides a more enticing atmosphere for a high school athlete or transfer to potentially consider,” he said. “The main thing it provides is a legitimacy for what we’re doing. … It’s just another step for us having the same opportunities as other colleges have — to provide the best atmosphere for our students and student athletes.”

Not only is the league a step up in structure and organization, it’s a giant leap in visibility and watchability for fans.

For instance, with 34 men’s and women’s teams battling, the USCAA Basketball National Championships stands as a major national intercollegiate tournament. USCAA championships are simulcast online via ESPN Radio and live video broadcasts on the USCAA Network.

Off the court, the USCAA every year salutes more than 150 players of the week, presents 75 All-Tournament awards, names 375 All-Americans (1st Team, 2nd Team, and Honorable Mention), and honors 700 scholar-athletes.

League play for Beacon College kicks off with cross country in August.