Owls baseball team disheartened program was not restored

Posted: February 26, 2014

IT HAS BEEN a long, strenuous fight for Temple baseball coach Ryan Wheeler since he heard his program would be cut, effective July 1. The fight that began in December ended yesterday with Wheeler and his team still looking for answers.

While the board of trustees met yesterday afternoon and announced it was able to save men's crew and women's rowing, thanks to an outside donation, baseball was one of five sports that was not restored.

"I kind of had an idea [Sunday] night in talking with our lawyer behind the scenes who has been working to help us," Wheeler said after the meeting. "We were on the bus and she said it didn't look good for the vote, so mentally, I think I was prepared for it, and, when I heard the news, I was just disappointed.

"I really didn't want to attend the meeting because of how difficult it was on Dec. 6. I knew it was going to be another difficult day like that one, and I really didn't want to go through it again, but I had to attend and it was very disappointing to hear the final vote."

The historic program, which began in 1907 and became a varsity sport in 1927, made an extended pitch to be saved. Wheeler noted during the meeting that the team had a relationship with both the Phillies and Camden Riversharks, the latter of whom is allowing home games to be played at Campbell's Field in Camden.

"By no means is this fight over yet," said senior righthander Matt Hockenberry, the team captain. "I think, if anything, it will cause even more [frustration] now that they have reinstated both men's crew and women's rowing - and congratulations to both of those teams - but I think it's insulting to reinstate those teams and overlook the rest of us."

Wheeler described his fight to save the program as exhausting.

"I can't keep dealing with the emotional stress that goes along with it," the third-year coach said. "Since Dec. 6, it's been like riding a roller coaster for me, and, on top of that, we are now starting the season and playing games. It's just a lot for me to handle, and I feel like I have put forth the effort to try to help come up with solutions to save the program, and I just don't know what else there is for me to do.

"If other people want to continue to carry the fight forward, I hope they do, and I will lend a hand, but I can't be spending as much time as I have been on it and still be able to function as the head coach. I almost need to bring some closure to myself to feel like I can move on with the season and then move on with my own career."

In addition to figuring out a plan for himself, Wheeler understands that his players probably will be distracted during the season while looking for a new school.

"It's actually really tricky for everybody on this team, especially the freshmen and sophomores," sophomore outfielder Texas Williams said. "We aren't sure if we should stay here and earn our degrees - which really doesn't seem like much of an option - or leave to go somewhere else to play baseball because we are able to. We are all looking around at other schools as if we were all back in high school. I personally feel like I am a senior in high school and treating this season almost as if it was a showcase."

Hockenberry vowed the players would remain close, despite the distractions.

"It doesn't matter how many games we win or lose this year," Hockenberry said, "we are a band of brothers and we are a family."

On Twitter: @JohnMurrow12

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