Indiana University Kokomo will expand its collegiate sports program next year by adding two cross country teams, officials announced this week.
The announcement came just a month after members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics toured the campus.
IU Kokomo is hoping to join the NAIA, officials said. But to do that, the university must have six varsity sports within four years. The addition of the men’s and women’s cross country teams will bring the university’s total to four.
“These teams will enhance student life, as well as continue to bring the campus and community together to rally around students who wish to continue in athletics,” said Jack Tharp, vice chancellor for student services and interim athletic director.
Officials say the cross country runners will be the most visible athletes on campus. They will train on roads and trails and in parks throughout the city and on campus.
“We are excited to debut these two new teams during the fall competition season,” Tharp said.
The women’s Cougar volleyball team and men’s basketball team just finished their inaugural seasons at IU Kokomo.
Next year both teams will move to new venues — ones that are closer to campus, officials said.
The volleyball team will play at Maple Crest Middle School, one block away from IU Kokomo. The basketball team will play home games at Kokomo High School.
Marie Radel, spokeswoman for the university, said both sports are more popular than she could have imagined.
“We had 300-something people show up for the tailgate party for our first volleyball game,” Radel had said. “That’s just unheard of in collegiate sports, and for a volleyball game.”
She said the stands are routinely filled for basketball games — even the ones that are on a Thursday night.
Radel said the university hopes that will reflect well on the NAIA. University officials will find out in April if they are accepted into the association.
IU Kokomo is still searching for a cross country coach.
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org