• Go Beavers!!!

Don Schwartz recalls journey to Pratt Community College

11 April 2018
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“I think I made a mistake.”

The first words Don Schwartz remembers telling his mother after he arrived in Pratt during the summer of 1966 were less than enthusiastic. Little did he know at the time, his upcoming journey through Pratt and Pratt Community College, known as Pratt Junior College at the time, would be one that would change his life forever.

Schwartz was a stellar high school football player in Pennsylvania with hopes and dreams to play Division I ball. At the time, he had only one obstacle stopping him from fulfilling that dream – English. The University of Pennsylvania, as well as a few other schools, had recruited him to play football but he was not accepted due to his SAT scores in English.

“They said I have to attend a junior college or prep school before I could attend,” said Schwartz. “They had sent my name onto junior colleges to recruit me. I had probably five junior colleges from Kansas, as well as San Francisco, Texas, and Colorado recruiting me. A lot of junior colleges.”

A phone call from the Pratt Community College football coach, Ray Fulton, eventually won Schwartz over.
“Coach Fulton told me, ‘The people out here talk funny compared to you. We don’t have any trees compared to where you are coming from in Appalachia. It’s a real small town. There are more horses and cows than there are people.’ He was being totally honest,” said Schwartz.

After Fulton promised him a spot on a Division I university roster back east with hard work put in on both, the field and the classroom, Schwartz had made up his mind.

“I got off the phone and told my mom I am going to Pratt, Kansas,” said Schwartz. “I got out the map and discovered it was a little town between Dodge City and Wichita. I had seen the movie, Gun Smoke. I knew about Dodge City. I knew Wichita. So I decided to come here.”

With $100 saved from a summer job and a suitcase full of clothes, Schwartz boarded a train in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and 26 hours later, arrived in Pratt, Kansas.

“I got off the train at 3:30 in the morning at Pratt. I immediately thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I think I made a mistake,’” said Schwartz. “There was a grasshopper on the glass that was bigger than our birds we have in Pennsylvania.”

The next morning, Schwartz and a few other football players went down to the lobby at the Parrish Hotel to meet Fulton. He showed them the college, which was an old 1919 high school building across from the hotel. The postcard he was sent was an architectural photo of the current college as it is today.

“It was beautiful,” said Schwartz. “I was told if I stayed for two years, I would attend classes in that building.”
Schwartz remembers the college had no dorms at that time.

“We lived all over town,” said Schwartz. “Four of us out of state kids and a kid from Wichita lived in a big house on the corner of Grant and Iuka Street. It cost us each $5.00 a week to live there.”

Books and tuition were covered by the football scholarship, however room and board had to be paid for by the players. Fulton was able to get Schwartz a job working as a janitor in the high school after classes and football practices. Then, he was able to get a job working at Fletchers Packing Company.

“I made enough money to pay my room and board,” said Schwartz.

Fulton took Schwartz into the school to meet his academic advisor, Ray McKinney.

“I told Mr. McKinney that I wanted to go to university back east when I am done here,” said Schwartz. “He told me, ‘You take everything that I tell you. Don’t argue with me. I will get you into one of those schools.’ I told him, ‘Sir, whatever you tell me to take, I will take it.”

Schwartz took everything he was told to for the next two years. He played football during the 1966-1967 season and the team went on to win seven games with only two losses and one tie. A Sterling Bowl win concluded the season and the Pratt Junior College Beavers were ranked seventh in the nation. Schwartz was unable to compete his sophomore year due to a new head coach bringing in 80 players of his own. PCC President Cooper informed him he would still receive his scholarship for the second year so he could graduate.

“I was basically redshirted,” said Schwartz. “Everything here went fine, other than I missed playing football.”
After graduation, Schwartz transferred to Villanova University and was the first junior college athlete to be accepted. Every credit he had taken at Pratt Junior College had transferred in to the university. In fact, the transcript was the best the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences had seen coming from a junior college.

“I was the first athlete they took from a junior college,” said Schwartz. “They had another kid come in right after me. Twenty three credits after two years were all that transferred for him. Everything I had coming out of Pratt Community College transferred into Villanova.”

PCC not only prepared Schwartz for the university academically, he also found success on the football field. The university knew him from high school and saw film, but they were impressed with the improvements he had made in the two years prior.

“We started football practice and the head coach asked me where I learned to play football like that,” said Schwartz. “I told him, ‘Sir, I played in the Kansas Jayhawk JuCo Conference and I played against the Coffeyville Red Ravens.’ They were the National Junior College champions every year.”

Schwartz attended Villanova for three years and married a Kansas girl who was anxious to get back to the small town way of life. In 1976, he accepted a job at Liberty Middle School and worked there for five years before being hired as a recruiter at PCC in 1981.

“The President of PCC at the time, Norman Myers, stopped me at a high school basketball game and asked if I would like to come work at the college as a recruiter,” said Schwartz. “He said, ‘You went to school at Pratt. I know you believe in the place. I will give you a raise and your boss will be Mr. Ray McKinney.’ I immediately told him I am coming.”

With his previous academic advisor as his mentor, Schwartz led a very successful recruiting career.
“It was easy to recruit students and convincing parents because I went to Pratt,” said Schwartz. “I graduated from Pratt. I went on and was very successful at a major university that was real high academically. The parents liked that and sent their kids here.”

In his 28 years as an employee, Schwartz served many roles within the college. He was a coach, the Director of Admissions, an athletic director, and he even taught a class or two. No matter which hat he wore, he continued doing what he enjoyed doing most – recruiting students.

“I told Ray McKinney one time, ‘I can’t believe you are paying me to do this. I love doing this job. I go find kids from schools and bring them on campus. I give them a tour. I am selling them something that I believe in,’” said Schwartz.

Schwartz retired from the college in 2009. In 2015, he was inducted into the PCC Athletic Hall of Fame due to his successes as an athlete, coach, and athletic director.

When asked if he would change anything about his journey that took him to Pratt, Kansas, where he once thought he had made a mistake after stepping off the train in 1966, Schwartz would not hesitate to say no.

“If Villanova offered me a scholarship right after high school back in 1966, knowing what I know now, I would tell Villanova and any other Division I school, no,” said Schwartz. “I am going to Pratt Junior College.”

September 6, 1938, Pratt Junior College opened its doors as the 14th junior college created in Kansas. Pratt “Juco” welcomed 150 new students to its original campus located on 401 S Hamilton St. Eighty years later, Pratt Community College, is proud to have helped build the futures of thousands of students on-campus, online, at our Winfield and Wichita learning centers and through high school concurrent enrollment.

The mission of Pratt Community College is maximum student learning, individual and workforce development, high quality instruction and service, and community enrichment. PCC is proud to be a part of the community in Pratt, Kansas. With more than 80 years of history, PCC remains humbled to serve our community and students who come to build a foundation for their lives.

This year we celebrate this grand anniversary and remember those who’ve walked through these halls. Each month during 2018 PCC is proud to feature stories and memories from alumnae, community members and faculty who have helped see our institution and mission grow. If you would like to share an experience or memory or be considered for one of our monthly features contact Jessica Sanko, 620-450-2192, jessicas@prattcc.edu.