Mixed feelings among Temple athletes as trustees spare 2 teams

Posted: February 26, 2014

For Ali Watkins and other members of Temple University's rowing team, it should have been a happy moment. When Temple president Neil D. Theobald announced at Monday's trustee meeting that men's crew and women's rowing should be spared the chopping block, one of Watkins' teammates burst into tears of relief.

But Watkins said it was hard to rejoice at Sullivan Hall surrounded by members of the school's baseball, softball, and gymnastics teams, many of them in training gear or team shirts, knowing that those teams might soon cease to exist.

"It's almost a survivor's guilt," said Watkins, 22. "I'm grateful, as an athlete. We're happy for each other. But it hurts to think about the members of these teams losing their sports. My heart goes out to them."

Rowing and crew were two of seven sports that Temple's board of trustees voted to cut in December, sparking outcry from athletes, coaches, and others.

At Monday's board meeting, Theobald announced that along with city funds, a philanthropist was stepping in: H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest would donate the money needed to renovate the school's dilapidated boathouse on the Schuylkill. The city, in turn, will repair a section of retaining wall that collapsed into the river about a year ago.

Lenfest, along with fellow Temple trustee Lewis Katz, is a co-owner of Interstate General Media, which owns The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

Based on Theobald's recommendation, the board voted Monday to restore the teams. But the remaining sports targeted last year - baseball, softball, men's gymnastics, and men's indoor and spring track and field - will be cut at the end of the academic year, Theobald said.

The trustees' meeting was packed with students and coaches, many of whom had hoped to sway the board with impassioned arguments on behalf of their teams. Several also had offered plans for raising money to fund the teams or other solutions to address problems that the board had identified.

Baseball coach Ryan Wheeler "put in every ounce of work that he needed to for this to be saved," sophomore infielder Sean Arnott said Monday. "They ignored his solutions. A good idea, and a rational idea, might have been to give this more time to see what could be done before making such a rash decision."

Already, the cuts have led to the loss of six players from the team, Arnott said. "We only have four years here," he said. "Time is important, and a lot of the rosters for next year are already filled."

After the meeting, men's gymnastics coach Fred Turoff said Katz, chairman of the board's athletics committee, made him a "matching gift offer" to cover his salary and an operating budget for the nearly 90-year-old gymnastics team to continue as a club program. Turoff said that he would need to raise $70,000 a year to match Katz's offer, and that the team already had raised close to that.

But members of the gymnastics team said the idea of being booted to a less competitive level was disheartening. Grady Cooper, a 19-year-old sophomore, said that he spent 2013 on the school's club level, but that with unstructured practices and little coaching, he had higher aspirations.

"I knew I wanted to be serious about gymnastics, and not have it just be a hobby," he said. "So I trained as hard as I could, to be the kind of player who could compete on a team like this. . . . To go back to being in a club program just isn't enough."


asteele@phillynews.com

610-313-8113

@AESteele

Staff writer Mike Jensen contributed to this article.

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