Football Can't Save Texas' Oldest Junior College

Ann McClure's picture

Weeds crowd around the base of the goal posts. The football field, normally manicured to perfection, is unkempt with wide swaths of browning, uncollected grass amid patches of red dirt and chirping grasshoppers.

A few years ago, this field was the focal point of Lon Morris College's grand plan to save the 158-year-old private school from mounting debt. The school reinstated its football team after a nearly 70-year hiatus with the hope of increasing enrollment and building excitement about the tiny junior college in East Texas.

Instead, Lon Morris was burdened with waves of new students who couldn't pay the bills, overwhelming football expenses and a bankruptcy filing this summer that has left Texas' oldest junior college on life support and without any sports teams.

Like so many other non-profit, two-year private campuses, Lon Morris has been seeking ways to survive as more than half the country's private junior colleges have disappeared since the mid-1990s due in part to cheaper tuition at community colleges. Dozens have closed. Most transitioned to four-year schools. But in a fitting strategy for a Texas school, Lon Morris saw its survival in football.

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