Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing team) was inducted into the Lees-McRae College Athletic Hall of Fame Friday as part of the college’s homecoming festivities. The induction ceremony was only the third in the college’s 110-year history.
Bookwalter graduated from Lees-McRae in 2006 after winning 7 collegiate cycling titles for the Bobcats. As a senior, the Grand Rapids, MI, native also won the U.S. national Under 23 time trial championship.
Lees-McRae located in Banner Elk, North Carolina, is one of the only colleges in the United States to offer partial scholarships for cycling. Other universities offering scholarships amounting to more than a few hundred dollars for cyclists, include: Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas; Marion University in Indianapolis, IN and Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Lees-McRae offers scholarships ranging from US$3,000 to $15,000.
“We’re able to offer partial scholarships based off of what their academic and talent levels are,” Craig McPhall, Lees-McRae’s athletic director told BikeRadar. “We try to make it as affordable as possible for them should they decide to continue their cycling career in an area that we feel is pretty conducive to their development.”
The Lees-McRae cycling program has secured 9 national collegiate team titles. They took their first Division II mountain bike national team title in 2003, before petitioning to compete in Division I category (note: collegiate cycling is not overseen by the NCAA) in 2006.
Bookwalter took the team’s first Division I title that year at the 2006 Cyclo-cross National Championships at Providence, RI in December. Lees-McRae finished on the podium in the team competition that year. Since the program’s inception in 2003, the school has produced more than 30 individual national collegiate cycling champions.
Despite their small, roughly 700 member student body, the school was granted Division I status and currently competes against schools with 20,000 to 30,000 students. The school continues to put out cycling talent, most recently former Bobcat, Andrew Talansky, signed a three-year contract with Garmin-Transitions for the 2011 season, while Carla Swart, a Bobcat alumni, is the most decorated female collegiate cyclist of all time and finished 10th in this past weekend’s world championship road race in Melbourne, Australia while riding for South Africa.
As for Bookwalter, he finished both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia and was second in the opening time trial of the Giro this year. He also placed third in the prologue of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah presented by Zions Bank in 2010.
Joining Bookwalter in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this year are tennis player Randy Bloemendaal (’92), NAIA basketball All-American Robin Scott (’95) and the late Robert G. Ball (’82), who played in the NFL. The inductees were honored at a Hall of Fame Dinner on the Lees-McRae campus this past weekend.
In continuing its dedication to cycling, Lees-McRae will offer Bicycling Studies as a minor degree for fall 2011.
“We’re trying to offer the most complete cycling program in the country,” said McPhail. “We’re trying to put kids who are passionate about cycling into the industry. We’re hoping to open the doors of different corporations and companies for these kids who have backgrounds in cycling so that they can help further the industry.”