Through athletic endeavors and competition, many of us have learned that fear can be tamed; that on a team the whole is more than the sum of its parts; and that the ability to be heroic lies to a surprising degree, within ourselves. Unfortunately, contrary to these fundamental lessons, this week the University of Delaware’s Athletic Department, when faced with difficult challenges made the decision that required the least amount of character. The University of Delaware will drop the Men’s Running program after the 2011 Outdoor Track & Field season, the final chapter of a team with a 100 year history. The athletic department looked for the easy direction. They rattled off convenient excuses, blaming the gender inadequacies of Title IX. They left many active athletes with no avenue of recourse. Read nothing in to the recent announcement, the decision was made many months ago, and most unfortunately this decision is FINAL.
Many of our Sports Club members have asked, “How can this happen?” “Can anything be done to save the program?” This happened because the University and the Athletic Director have chosen the path they wish to pursue. Their decision shows little concern for current athletes, and the announcement seemed to hide the true reason. It has chosen to eliminate a non-revenue producing sport. It has chosen to use the facilities to assist programs that give the University more prestige prior to a fundraising capital campaign. The football program needs more. The football program gives the University national attention, which ultimately gives the University more money. The answer to the second question is: no, there appears to be nothing that can be done to save the program. During situations such as these it is easy to point fingers, call names and make accusations. But as an organization, the Delaware Sports Club cannot do such things.
Of course many of us are concerned about the athletes that this affects immediately. For several of these men, they excel in their role as both student AND athlete. But now they are faced with the decision of transferring to a different school or giving up their passion. For many there is another great concern, how will this decision affect our grassroots running programs, our future high school and elementary school athletes?
There are more than one dozen Delaware high school coaches that have gone through the University of Delaware Running Program. Each of these coaches hopes to instill the love of running to young athletes. There are countless numbers of parents in our local community that hope their sons or daughters can enjoy a lifelong love of running. If there are no opportunities to run beyond high school, what reason is there for an athlete to dream? The University of Delaware is an excellent institution which provides many affordable opportunities to in-state residents, but without a male running program, those academic opportunities are being taken away from several local athletes. Our community will be left to deal with the consequences of this decision and how they affect our younger athletes. Perhaps this is another reason for disappointment and anger expressed by so many, they are afraid youth running may wither and die.
If a running community has a heart, in the state of Delaware, our heart and soul is Coach Jim Fischer. Coach Fischer is more than just the head of the Men and Women’s Running Programs at the University of Delaware, he is a mentor to many and truly a friend to all. To many lesser in his profession, the title ‘coach’ is just a title. But Jim Fischer embodies all that is good in a coach. He sees potential in every person he encounters, he provides encouragement for every level of athlete. For years, Jim has selflessly sacrificed his time to: train an athlete; assist a recreational runner; or support a non-profit organization. His actions do more than just motivate, he inspires others to want to become a coach. We are thankful that he will remain with the women’s team and as a central part of this community.
Since it appears that money and national prestige are the key motivating factors behind the University’s decision, it may be your only direct way to protest. But your voice speaks louder when it is in unison with others. So tell your friends, tell your work associates, tell your bosses of the University’s unfortunate course of action – let them know why you are unhappy. If money made them make this decision, perhaps the lack of money will make them rethink it several years from now.
As a community, we are mourning this loss and will be affected by it for some time. For the Delaware Sports Club, our efforts and mission remain the same, but we are now burdened with a certain degree of urgency. More than ever we must ensure our club is an advocate for the running community throughout the State of Delaware. This challenge must be met by your continuing to support running and ensure opportunities at every level of ability and every age– elementary and high schools; college; and for adults and seniors.
Delaware Sports Club, VP of Running