The following is a letter from Shawn Casey, Temple University class of 2007 and a member of the 2004 Atlantic 10 Conference-champion Owls softball team, to Temple University President Neil D. Theobald, Athletic Director Kevin Clark, and the University's Board of Trustees:
The announcement that Temple University plans to eliminate 7 Division I athletic programs on July 1, 2014 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. My heart breaks for each and every athlete and coach affected by the University's decision to cut athletic funding. 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 University.
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 was created for 'the benefit of working men' servicing students at night, so that they could hold and maintain employment. The official motto, (still referenced today) – Perseverantia Vincit or "Perseverance Conquers," declares the University's dedication to its students and the students' dedication to forward, ongoing progress. 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 St. daily, may have lost sight of the schools' humble beginnings.
In order to thrive in the raw North Philly landscape and culture of Temple University, you must have street smarts, books smarts, and an individual, independent edge to endure and excel. While these character traits promote personal growth and acceptance among students, the urban campus environment and predominately commuter based enrollment sadly eliminates the major collegiate experience of community. The irony here is that Temple was originated for the community, to encourage its positive development. However, through the years, is has been unable to cultivate that facet of the University.
That being said, 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 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 other DI schools and programs boast. Temple athletes support one another regardless of the individual team they play for because they know and respect the persevering fight found within the heart of an athlete with something to prove.
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 A10 Championships, 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, inherently proving ourselves; it was an experience that the entire team and coaching staff will remember forever. 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 that SOFTBALL came THIRD. Upon elimination from the NCAA Tournament in 2004, we cried. The season was over, and yet it will forever be one of the happiest memories of my life. We got to live ALL 3 of Roc's visions in unison playing the game we loved, with our family of teammates for the University we were so honored to represent.
Our team epitomized toughness and resilience in the years following Roc's retirement in 2005, without much support or understanding from the University's Athletic Department. 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.
There is no question as to the positive, lasting, and life-long lessons taught to us through athletics. Through the good and in some cases, very trying times, we find patience, our breaking points and eventually, our balance. I am thankful daily for the experiences and insight I have been able to take with me both personally and professionally because of the lessons learned as a college athlete.
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. That Baseball, Softball, Men's and Women's Crew, Men's Gymnastics, Men's Indoor and Outdoor Track legacies don't hold enough importance to the University to maintain. While we hope that this is not the case or intention, based on the way in which student athletes and coaches were treated and informed of the University's decision, it is difficult to believe otherwise.
Your decision, endorsed by President Theobald and Athletic Director Kevin Clark (who did not participate in intercollegiate athletics) cite travel time and inadequate facilities as top reasons for these cuts. Yet, I know Temple athletes would take less than what they are currently provided in order to continue their athletic careers. An underlying issue is the new leadership's 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. These decisions display questionable department management and planning, and ultimately, a lack of understanding of Temple University Athletics as a whole.
Watching the momentum build from 2000 miles away in support of those programs left behind, it is fascinating to feel that resilient fight surge throughout the entire community of former Temple University student athletes. We have awoken, and our passion is awesome.
To all of the student athletes who feel disheartened by the University they love and represent: