BY MILES DUMVILLE
All the way through middle and high school, I enjoyed playing team sports. Last year as a freshman, I decided not to try out for any varsity teams because I wasn’t sure if I could afford the time commitment. It didn’t take long for me to miss being on a team dearly.
Conveniently for me, my suitemate this school year is on the crew team and told me that I should consider joining due to my size and stature. Still not 100% sure that I wanted to sell my soul to a varsity athletic team, I decided to attend the team interest meeting.
At 7:30 PM, myself and about 80 other crew hopefuls and veterans gathered in the large and widely used basement lecture hall of the Jepson Science Center. Almost immediately, Coach Schmehl and Dr. Ed Hegmann, UMW’s athletic director walked sternly to the front of the classroom. From here, Dr. Hegmann approached the podium and announced what we have all come to know this week: at the request of the UMW Board of Directors, the men’s and women’s varsity rowing teams have been suspended for the 2007/2008 season due to lack of a practice facility and lack of finances.
As one can imagine, a flurry of commotion and disapproval erupted in the room, and for good reason. This action by the school was a completely unnecessary kick in the face to not only the rowers of the crew team, but also the coaches, graduates, and those who showed interest in joining its ranks.
If you disagree or don’t believe me, just consider the following situations:
1. Last years women’s team achieved the rank of seventh in the nation and they, along with a young men’s team had the potential to break countless records this year. Now, due to circumstances beyond their control, they no longer have a team. As one rower put it, “We should all feel betrayed by the school.”
2. An All-American rower graduated from UMW last year. Many of those left behind have put long, exhausting hours in to follow in her footsteps. Now, in order to do so, they may have to transfer to another college.
3. As with any varsity sport, a number of freshmen were recruited out of high school to excel on the rowing team and make the team better. This recruiting process weighs heavily on those graduating high school seniors’ college decisions. Now they have contracted themselves to attend Mary Washington as student athletes only to find out after their arrival on campus that there is no more crew team.
4. While coaches may teach a few Physical Education classes during the school day, their main commitment, love, and source of income is their coaching job. If the team no longer exists, neither do the coaching positions. A coach seems to have two options here. Either stick around and see if the team is reinstated or start looking for a new job elsewhere. Coach Schmehl’s only comment in regard to this dilemma was “I’ll see what my wife says.”
5.Sometimes students of the university decide later in the game that they would like to pursue a varsity sport, such as myself. I know I was not alone with this situation and upon hearing the upsetting news at the meeting, I felt as if a door that had been opened to me by the school was suddenly slammed shut in my face.
After giving his condolences, Dr. Hegmann gave the floor to an understandably emotional Coach Schmehl (Here is a coach who had only heard the devastating news about his team moments before the scheduled meeting and now had to find words of optimism with which to address a group of shocked and rightfully angry college rowers).
His opinion was one that the whole room shared. The school needs to find another way to manage the recent budget cut issued on it by the state. Following his remarks, the floor was opened for suggestions on how to resolve the unfortunate problem at hand.
Many ideas on possible practice locations were introduced by the students but all were either to far out of reach or “easier said than done” due to a hodge-podge of regulations (But what’s new? No one can do anything anymore without fine print being involved.).
What has been impressive about this unfortunate situation, however, is how the team has handled it. Like any successful sports team, the members confront their problems together on and off the playing field, or in this case, the water. Concluding the meeting were rousing attempts at motivation by graduated members of the team, including four-time All-American Kelley Tice. And motivate they did.
Through Facebook groups, e-mails, letters, petitions, and rowing demonstrations in front of George Washington Hall, the rowing team has proved that they can launch a mature and effective retaliation against an unjust administrative decision as fast they can a boat.
What has been unimpressive has been the school’s handling of its budget cut recently issued by the state of Virginia, particularly if a student center facelift rests higher on the priority totem pole than a nationally ranked crew team. Maybe the Board of Visitors can take a lesson from the team on how to properly manage a difficult situation.