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A recruit rues the loss of her sport at Temple

The day that high school senior Shelby Stracher received the letter of intent to play softball at Temple - that was a big day.

Shelby Stracher, a high school senior in Massachusetts, signed a letter of intent in November to play softball at Temple. That letter is now null and void and she doesn't know where she'll end up going to college.
Shelby Stracher, a high school senior in Massachusetts, signed a letter of intent in November to play softball at Temple. That letter is now null and void and she doesn't know where she'll end up going to college.Read more

The day that high school senior Shelby Stracher received the letter of intent to play softball at Temple - that was a big day.

"Oh, we read it in full, the first time we got it," said Shelby's mother, Diana.

Before signing, the Strachers didn't ignore the section that explained how the letter "becomes null and void" - including Section 7e, which states in bold lettering, discontinued sport. It goes, "This NLI shall be declared null and void if the institution named in the document discontinues my sport."

"We thought, 'This is Temple, how would that ever happen?' " said Diana Stracher.

When Temple announced earlier this month that the university was dropping seven sports, Stracher's sport was one of them. To say she was astonished would be understated. The day before that announcement, Stracher, a catcher from Dudley, Mass., had filled out a questionnaire from Temple that was designed to go on its website.

Along with her accomplishments (Worcester Telegram & Gazette all-star, led team in HRs, RBI, on-base percentage and batting average), there was a question: Who or what influenced her to go to Temple?

Shelby's answer: "How much the school is dedicated to its sports and obviously the chance for a great college education."

"How ironic that sounds," she said.

In its announcement the next day, the school said the cuts directly impacted 150 student-athletes.

Temple must have come up with that number the way it has massaged attendance figures over the years, hoping nobody will notice. Upon questioning, the school said the number of roster spots cut was 208. Temple hadn't counted seniors now at Temple, and it didn't count Shelby Stracher, or anybody else who had just signed a letter of intent in November.

Stracher had committed to Temple in August, of 2012. She agreed to a 45 percent scholarship, which got bumped up to 70 percent when Shelby visited Temple earlier this year. ("This is when the real works begins. I had lost 30 pounds, put on muscles, went to the gym five days a week, cages four times a week.")

Before she went off the market, Stracher had turned down an offer from Bowling Green for an 80 percent scholarship that the school's coach told her travel-team coach was going to be bumped up to 100 percent.

And now?

"There is now no athletic money out there for her," Diana Stracher explained.

Several college coaches are interested, and Shelby will end up playing somewhere, but their scholarship money is used up, Diana Stracher said. She went into more detail in a letter to Temple administrators, telling them about her daughter, "When she felt guilty about the money we would have to pay for equipment, team fees, airline flights, hotels, etc., we would always tell her, "Don't you worry about that, you play ball to the best of your ability and it'll all pay off in the long run."

The payoff, as they saw it, came when Owls softball coach Joe DiPietro offered that scholarship. When the cut was announced, the coach said, the committed high school seniors "started contacting me right away to try to get some answers. . . . I didn't have them. You get these kids to come, the biggest event in their life to that point, going to college, it's now gone, and I didn't have any answers on how to pick up the pieces."

DiPietro makes it clear he didn't see the ax coming.

"Our budget went from $101,000, to $167,000 this year," DiPietro said, noting that softball was responsible for fund-raising $10,000 of it. "They upgraded all the budgets."

Obviously, Title IX had nothing to do with cutting his sport. Federal law is designed to improve opportunities for female athletes, not cut them. And the sport couldn't have been cut for poor performance. In his sixth season, DiPietro pointed out that during the previous five years, "we're the only team that has improved its win total each year."

Last season, his team even had its first all-American, catcher Stephanie Pasquale, and according to DiPietro, the Owls led the nation in home runs in the regular season.

By the time NCAA tournament play was completed, "We finished third [in home runs] because Texas A&M and Arizona State played more games than us," DiPietro said.

Playing in Ambler? Facilities as an issue? DiPietro said he heard no complaints, from his players or opponents. He doesn't know what the school plans to do with his team's field.

The cuts illustrate how at its core Division I college sports is a business, whether schools make money at it or not. (Temple loses millions.) That letter of intent is a contract written by attorneys. It serves a purpose, since without it, coaches wouldn't know who is fully committed to a school and the recruiting scene would be utter chaos.

"It stinks for Shelby, but she's going to find a college," her mother said. "It's heartbreaking for those girls already there."

Could Temple go beyond the letter of intent and decide to honor its commitment? Of course, but according to DiPietro, the school chooses not to do so. DiPietro said another high school senior who signed "may have still come here . . . she wants to do pharmacy. We have the top pharmacy school in the country."

He checked with the compliance department, DiPietro said, which checked into it further.

"We were told that all the NLIs were null and void and we won't honor them," DiPietro said. "Maybe if push came to shove we could get them here for one year. But why are they going to want to come here for one year?"

Shelby's emotions were exactly what you'd expect.

"That whole weekend was feelings of really deep depression, holding back tears, and then going to the polar opposite, the anger," she said, remembering how she turned on the television and there was Temple playing basketball against Texas.

"I can't even watch this - I'm rooting for the other team," she remembers yelling.

Stracher intends to play college softball so the Owls are out for her. Her feelings for Temple aren't completely null and void, however. DiPietro is doing what he can to help her find another school. The Owls team, which will play through the spring, has a trip to Connecticut in April and Shelby plans to be there to support the girls she had gotten to know.

Just don't look for her to be wearing Temple colors.

"We had bought so much Temple gear," Shelby said.

When Temple announced the cuts, she went into her closet that night, Stracher said, grabbed every piece of gear with an Owl or T on it, brought the pile into her older sister's room. No letter was needed to show the gesture's intent.

"Here you go," she said, flinging the clothes.