By Kyle Schmid
The University of Delaware announced last month that it will eliminate its men's cross-country and track-and-field programs, citing financial constraints and Title IX gender-equity requirements. Whatever the reasons behind it, this misguided decision will hurt not just those on the teams today, but countless students to come.
I ran under Delaware coach Jim Fischer for 12 seasons - four cross-country, four indoor track, and four outdoor track - from 2004 to 2007. The experience developed me as a person in more ways than I can put into words.
I went from failing to make the cross-country team in 2003 to becoming a two-time MVP and team captain in 2006 and 2007, all while majoring in civil engineering and maintaining a GPA that qualified me for the dean's list. This required a lot of hard work, determination, and support from my teammates and coach.
The spring semester of my junior year was the toughest during my time at Delaware, both academically and athletically. The engineering department had decided to schedule most classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which were also the hardest workout days during the outdoor track season. I had class from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. with maybe an hour break on those days, meaning I would miss the afternoon practices.
Coach Fischer drove from his home to the field house every single Tuesday morning for the duration of the semester to guide me alone through a 6:45 a.m. workout. That way, I could get the hardest training of the week in before my barrage of classes began.
It was not uncommon for me to work on a lab report or study for an exam until 3 or 4 a.m. the night before that morning workout. And on Thursdays, I did my 300-meter workout late at night on the outdoor track, in the dark and alone once again.
I did all this out of my esteem for the University of Delaware track-and-field program and my desire for self-improvement. I even geared my entire summer toward improving my running, logging up to 125 miles a week, dreaming that I could climb from not being fast enough for the team to becoming the best runner at the school. And guess what - I did.
My personal experience should help university officials understand what they are taking away from other young men. My story may sound somewhat unusual, but the truth is that many of my teammates at the time and many of the athletes on the team now have put in just as much hard work to represent the University of Delaware as well as they could.
Meanwhile, even as it's eliminating a program with a century of history in a sport that forms the core of the Olympic Games, the university is maintaining a football team with more than 100 players, including four kickers. How many University of Delaware football players continue to play football after college? I'm sure the number is minuscule. And how many track-and-field and cross-country athletes continue to run? Probably most of them.
Title IX and budget limitations could be real obstacles to maintaining these teams, but there's always a way to overcome obstacles if one really wants to. If cost is the issue, for example, I'm sure the student-athletes would give up any amount of scholarship funding and equipment for the opportunity to compete. I know I would have.
University of Delaware officials could have stood up for current and future student-athletes and figured out a way to keep the men's track-and-field and cross-country teams. But unlike the many student-athletes who have taken the hard path, they are taking the easy way out.