THE announcement that Temple University plans to eliminate seven Division I athletic programs on July 1 felt like a punch to the gut.
Messages from former teammates, friends, family, coaches, bosses, co-workers, strangers and even former college rivals have flooded my inbox and social accounts with offers of encouragement and support. The news also managed to awaken an array of memories and feelings, most of which still expose pure and overwhelming emotions when I look back on my own experiences as a student athlete at Temple.
Russell Conwell's vision for "The Temple College" was to provide superior educational opportunities for academically talented and highly motivated students, regardless of their backgrounds or means. Temple stands for something. Or at least, it did.
As Temple's growth continues to boom, evident through new facilities, buildings, dorms, fitness centers and programming, it's safe to assume the campus, buzzing with 36,000 students flocking to and from North Broad Street daily, may have lost sight of its humble beginnings.
In order to thrive in the raw North Philly landscape and culture of Temple University, you must have street smarts, book smarts and an individual, independent edge. While these character traits promote personal growth and acceptance among students, the urban campus environment and predominantly commuter-based enrollment sadly eliminates the major collegiate experience of community.
One group of students on campus has a true understanding of the importance of community: student athletes. While this group of 600 may only represent .02 percent of the total institution's enrollment, athletes represent a large portion of students who actually live, eat, study, work, practice, train and play on campus. Athletes on North Broad Street don't complain about a lack of general student-body support from one of the largest universities in the nation. In fact they value and embrace the role of "underdog."
They wear Temple University proudly across their chests regardless of facilities in need of updating, long commutes to practice or the glitz and glam of other Division I schools and programs.
At 17 years old, I walked on to the Temple softball team, unaware that showing up that first day at Erny Field/Temple Stadium would deeply affect the rest of my life. As a freshman, I was part of a team that went on to win the A-10 Championship, earning the right to represent Temple at the NCAA Regionals for the first time in school history. A month later, at the Arizona Regional, we won on the national stage.
Our head coach, Rocci Pignoli, embodied what collegiate athletics and Temple Softball were all about. He preached that family came first, school came second and softball came third. Upon elimination from the tournament in 2004, we cried. The season was over, and yet it will forever be one of the happiest memories of my life.
Our team epitomized toughness and resilience in the years following Roc's retirement in 2005. It was a dark period for the program, which is why it has been such a pleasure to watch current head coach Joe DiPietro restore the team to its former successes. If he were still here today, Roc would be proud.
In the wake of the decisions presented by the current administration, athletic department and board of trustees, what hurts the most is the unequivocal feeling that those memories, both good and bad, are somehow being erased from the history books. It's as if baseball, softball, men's and women's crew, men's gymnastics, and men's indoor and outdoor track legacies don't hold enough importance to the university to maintain.
The decision, endorsed by President Neil Theobald and Athletic Director Kevin Clark (who didn't participate in intercollegiate athletics), cites travel time and inadequate facilities as top reasons for the cuts. Yet, I know Temple athletes would take less than what they currently have in order to continue their athletic careers.
An underlying issue is the desire to create a successful football program. While proper facilities and an on-campus stadium would help recruit both top athletes and coaches, it does not seem right to breathe life into one program at the expense of seven others.
Temple University 2007,