Eastern Michigan University students, under the direction of Dr. Sadaf Ali and Patrick Campion, were given the opportunity to create a reporting project as a final project in their CTAT 334 class. This is the work of Alicia Schmidt, reporting on EMU's decision to cut several athletics programs earlier this year and how the student athletes involved in those programs were affected.
Remembering back to this past March, most people were talking about a major announcement made by the athletics department at Eastern Michigan University. Students, staff, and the public were told through emails and a news release that, on March 20th, four athletic teams were to be cut as part of a budget reconstruction.
As many of you heard numerous times, there was protests and fundraising that strived to bring the athletic teams back. However, it was not in the cards for the now-former athletes at Eastern.
After the announcement that the teams were not to be reinstated, the athletes had a very difficult decision to make--staying or leaving Eastern, and what that would mean to them as students and as athletes.
Although some athletes chose to follow their sport, many of them did stay. I got the chance to ask a few of them how they made that choice along with what this year as only students entails.
I met with Samantha Saporito, a former women’s softball player, to talk about how she’s stayed involved as an Eagle and as a student.
"I figured I could take a year to really focus on myself and develop myself for post-graduation life. As you know, I'm a senior. I'm almost done. I have a lot coming my way in the next year. So, I kind of took it as a year to take care of myself, and, if anything, I'm definitely a lot more busy. I'm still very, very involved in the athletic department. I'm a student assistant for our baseball team. I'm still SAC president. So, I'm still very hands-on with a lot of the other athletes that I've met here."
Samantha told me about the program that she is studying for, along with the thoughts going through her head when she decided to stay.
"Well, I think being a senior played a really big part in that, because I only have one year left. And trying to find another home that would take all my credits and not put me behind would be really difficult. And, like I said, the criminology department is very prestigious in the state. It's a good degree, and it wouldn't do me any justice to leave when I can get a good degree. I also have an internship coming up next semester, which I'm really looking forward to."
Although this was not the career end to softball anyone wanted, Samantha explained that she understood why it was done and said she has come to terms with it.
"At this point, I'm content with hanging up my cleats. I had a good career."
Many of the students did stay in Ypsilanti to finish out their degrees or programs through Eastern Michigan. However, not all of them were as close to finishing their years as an Eagle. I talked to Al’x Pierre, former men’s diver, current sophomore, about how the team went on with the school’s decisions.
"And we got the e-mail the night before. We weren't really sure what to expect. Then, the first thing it said was it was getting rid of four teams. At first, it came off as a bit of a shock. And then, we had a team talk. We talked about what people are going to do. But we had one of our seniors who graduated, so it didn't really affect him. We had a junior who decided that he was gonna be done diving. So he's still here. We had a sophomore that had to stop, so that wasn't too bad. And then there's three of us freshmen that decided to stay, but that was kind of like, 'Do we really want to move?' Because we had a really great time here the whole year. So, I mean, we all had each other, but it was not easy."
Al’x is one of the many student athletes that are not from America. He explained how this and other factors helped him to stay for the following year.
"I think the money conversion was the biggest thing for me, because it was late in the season. So. most teams already, like, have their rosters set up. And most teams I talked to said they could offer me a walk-on spot. But that's really expensive for me with the money conversion. And then, after talking about that, we just decided that I could just sit here and keep training. And if I wanted to transfer after, I could do that for next year."
Competing for 10 years, and still having years of NCAA eligibility, Al’x is keeping his athletics in mind, as he still has the skill and ability to transfer schools. For Al’x, it is a possibility that he is exploring.
"I went to Wyoming on a visit two weeks ago, and then I'm going to West Virginia in two weeks. But those are the only two schools I'm looking at really, and I feel like if I don't pick one of those, I'm just gonna stay here because I can still go back to Canada and compete. So, I mean, it's not that bad for me."
Filling his 20 hours a week that was occupied with practicing is still pursued in the same manner to keep improving athletically, getting assistance from former coaches to stay competition-ready while he decides.
Whereas former Eastern Michigan men’s wrestler Kristopher Hill explained that his choice to stay heavily relied on his want to graduate.
"I do get to keep my little scholarship--the couple of dollars they did give me. So, that's the biggest reason why I'll probably stay. And I only have a year left--like a year and a half left--so, at this point, it just seemed like the better move. I'm not really trying to get mixed up in, like, this sports thing. I'm trying to graduate. I came here to graduate. I didn't come here to worry about sports."
Without practices, up to two times a day and traveling for competitions, Kris has more time to focus on his school work and other daily activities.
"I do find myself having a lot more time for, like, homework. And then, I got a lot more off-time, definitely, for homework and games and whatever else I want to do. But I'd much rather have my team and be able to mess with them and compete."
Kris told me about the day they found out the team they knew so well was announced to not return, expressing his concern for the newer athletes.
"I think it really hurt the freshmen the most, because they had just got here and they were just kind of getting settled in, and they had big plans for the future. And we just came off our best year. But I think that's why the freshmen had it the worst. Everyone was equally mad."
Kris also explained that the team is still connected, even though they are apart.
"I'm definitely friends with all of them still. We still got a group match. We talk here and there somewhat. Not as much as then, but I still in contact with them, yeah.
Kris is now occupying more of his time coaching for Pioneer High School, giving back to the sport he loved for so long. He holds the title of Assistant Coach for the Men’s high school team.
Dedication, persistence, and adaptability. All the student athletes that spoke with me possess these qualities. They don’t seem to be defeated in any way from EMU's decision to conclude their programs.
For more information, please check out emueagles.com.
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