Parents of UNCW Track & Field athletes write to UNCW trustees

Parents of UNCW Track & Field athletes write to UNCW trustees
The UNCW Men's Track & Field Team was CAA Champions in 2008.
The UNCW Men's Track & Field Team was CAA Champions in 2008.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Parents of members of the UNCW Track & Field have spoken out after their student's teams were suddenly and unexpectedly cut by the athletic department. This comes a day after the athletes organized a petition to save their sports.

Students react

The petition, which started Tuesday night, was drafted about 24 hours after UNCW Athletic Director Jimmy Bass announced that the school will cut four sports programs: Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field, Women's Indoor Track and Field, and Men's Cross Country. You can sign their petition by clicking on this link:

"This track team, they're my family and I know we were all hurt by it," said Caleb Mathis, a sophomore on the Seahawk Men's Track and Field team. "It just kind of bothers me that I see all of the kids put in all this hard work for this year. Some seniors put in four years of hard work and now all will be forgotten."

The cuts will also mean the elimination of four coaching positions. Bass says the cuts will be effective for the 2015-2016 academic year.

"It's always very, very difficult to make decisions that I know will have a serious impact on student-athletes and employees," Bass said in a statement released by the UNCW Athletics Department. "However, I felt it was important to communicate this decision to these student-athletes and coaches as soon as possible -- before the holiday break, to try to avoid an atmosphere of hearsay that would only add to their anxiety; so they could use that time to discuss the matter with their families; and so our student-athletes could explore possible transfer opportunities."

Student-athletes said they were notified to attend a mandatory meeting Monday, where Bass read a report detailing the decision.

"There was silence for a little bit," said Mikayla Kinlock, a member of the Women's Track and Field Team. "I feel like everyone didn't understand that we had just been hit with a brick in the face. There was silence, and then as he read the rest of this report you could slowly see the wheels turning in some people's heads like we actually are not going to be back for next season."

Alyssa Omile, a junior on the Women's Track and Field team, said the timing of the announcement is also making it tougher, since she still has several final exams before the end of the semester.

"I still have three more (finals) to take," she said. "I am losing time for just having to figure out and talk to my parents about what's going to happen in the future, and it's just difficult right now."

Vincent Ragland, a sophomore on the Seahawk Men's Track and Field team, says he was offered scholarships at other universities but chose UNCW because he liked the school and the academics. He says the idea of transferring is like leaving family.

"We all came in together and we wanted to leave together and we had a very successful first year. But I guess we'll have to branch out in our own way," Ragland said.

Parents of athletes write to trustees

Parents of the soon-to-be student athletes came together to write a letter to the UNCW Board of Trustees. The letter states that parents and athletes were blind sided by the decision to cut the four programs.

Mr. Bass states that “In response to the ongoing analysis of fiscal health and the challenge presented by the Chancellor, he prepared the Sports Portfolio Management report recommending the discontinuation of four track programs.” Instead of maintaining transparency, a process that is paramount in the operation of a public entity such as UNCW, and employed by past Chancellor Miller, Interim Chancellor Sederburg instead chose to allow the athletic director and his top officials to conduct this review behind closed doors and in secrecy. Mr. Bass has stated that Chancellor Sederburg was involved "every step of the way" before he signed off on the moves in a statement released Monday night. This practice is the antithesis of transparency and should not be condoned!

The search for UNCW's Chancellor is well underway, wouldn't it be prudent to let the successful candidate shape and guide the future of UNCW Athletics when he or she takes the helm? We implore you to advise Interim Chancellor Sederburg to reconsider this flawed decision as this will surely negatively impact long term alumni relationships and potential donations. There will be wide support from all athletes and their supporters, (not just those from track) to call for a reversal of this ill-advised decision. Other UNCW athletic teams could also experience difficulty in their recruitment for top athletes as a spill-over effect from this decision. One would certainly steer a potential recruit away from UNCW having knowledge concerning how this entire process was handled.

To read the full letter click here:

University officials respond

Interim Chancellor William Sederburg released this statement about the decision:

AD Bass's recommendation to eliminate these sports is not one he took lightly. I know he and his staff, with the collaboration of our business affairs team, have made every effort for some time to avoid this outcome. I commend him for making such a difficult decision for the long-range benefit of the Athletics program. His report is comprehensive in its analysis of our Title IX obligations and how they've driven this decision, as well as the financials and facility conditions that have left AD Bass no choice but to make this recommendation. Our primary concern is addressing our student-athletes' needs, academically and otherwise, and answering any questions they may have about this development. I'd like to thank this community in advance for their understanding of the circumstances we find ourselves in, and ask them to continue to support Seahawk Athletics at every opportunity.

According to Bass' statement, UNCW will continue to honor scholarship commitments to the affected student-athletes through their scheduled graduation dates. Bass says he and Sederburg will be available Thursday, December 11 at 3 p.m. in UNCW's Golden Hawk Room to respond to students who have specific questions.

To read the entire report, click here:

Bass confirmed in an interview Tuesday morning that no additional teams will be cut from Athletic Department.

“No, we have to have 14 sports to be Division 1,” explained Bass. “We can't drop below 14 (teams), and our portfolio will be 15 (teams) going into the future. We think we have this one positioned well from a financial standpoint and a Title IX standpoint.”

Bass said there has been a low level of private supporter for the Track and Field teams compared to the other programs that were considered being cut a year and a half ago.

“Over the past two years we've had a little less than $20,000 contributed from the track and field program from private sources,” said Bass. "The softball program, the baseball program, the two soccer programs, and the swimming program, a lot of the alumni and parents have really stepped up to support those programs. So we have tracked and monitored that giving over the past 18 months, and their has been a lower level of private support for the track and field program than some of the other sports."

Bass also said they are estimating saving around $250,000 in the first year alone by not having to fund those four Track and Field programs. He said they plan to use those savings throughout the Athletic Department as a whole.

Bass said another reason for cutting the teams was to stay compliant with Title IX.

"The female enrollment on this campus continues to grow,” he explained. “The current freshman class is more than 63 percent female so that's what we are continuing to try and adjust too. That's why we are adding another women's sport."

The additional women's sport that will be added is a Women's Sand Volleyball. Bass confirmed the current head Women's Volleyball coach, Amy Bambenek, will be the head coach of that program as well. As of now, no other Colonial Athletic Association programs have a Women's Sand Volleyball team; so while they will not compete in conference play, they could potentially compete in a NCAA national tournament in the spring of 2016.

Donors react

George Rountree said he has donated to UNCW for 50 years. He said he is not surprised by the decision to cut the four teams.

"I'm not surprised. I think it's unfortunately necessary economically," Rountree explained. "I think whether it's good or bad depends whether or not you are a students athlete directly affected, whether you're a parent or parents of such student athlete, or whether you are in another athletic program at the university which will be further funded as a result of the elimination of track and field."

Rountree said he has recommended that UNCW hire an outside reviewer to examine the programs at UNCW and improve the success of the athletic programs.

"I think it's only as good as the university is committed to making it - and that's to be determined," said Rountree when asked about the future of the athletic programs.

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