Students, Faculty and Staff Gather to Voice Opposition to Potential Cut of Program
By LaKeshia Knarr
LOCK HAVEN – “Save Haven!” was the mantra of the afternoon on the campus of Lock Haven University today.
Over a hundred people attended a rally to save the LHU men’s track and field program, one potentially on the chopping block, based on a proposal by university administration. Under that proposal, women’s track and field and cross country, as well as men’s cross country, would remain intact.
According to organizers, administration points to declines in enrollment and the resulting financial crunch, as well as the need to comply with federal gender equity regulations, as why it is realigning the university’s athletics.
The crowd assembled in front of Rogers Gymnasium around noon before marching through campus – passing Robinson Hall, where organizing students said university president Dr. Michael Fiorentino Jr. was at the time holding a meeting – to the green, and ending at the new outdoor amphitheater in front of Price Auditorium.
There were over 12 speakers at the event, including community members, alumni, and students, as well as the former coach and the current coach of both the men’s and women’s track and field programs. Lining the grass between the speakers and the listening crowd were various trophies and plaques the teams have won over the years.
A common thread through each of the speeches was the idea of the team being a family.
“Family is at the root of our success,” said Coach Aaron Russell, the final speaker on the list. Russell said he chose to stay in Lock Haven and speaks from the heart when he talks to students about entering the university and its athletic programs. “I say this campus community cares about you… It comes across that that’s the truth. That’s why they choose Lock Haven.”
He thanked the crowd for their support of the program. “I appreciate everyone standing up… and doing so in a way that shows the integrity and character of the people here as well.”
According to Jim Dolan, former LHU professor and program coach, Russell has served as coach of the program for the last 19 years.
Dolan, speaking to the crowd, said during his tenure he helped expand the women’s track and field program and initiated the women’s cross country team at LHU. He and his wife continue to support the program through scholarships, he said; however, he believes the current proposal could inhibit admissions, as well as decrease alumni support and fundraising.
“Aaron Russell has built a cross country and track and field program that is nationally recognized,” Dolan said, adding that the university exists because of the students. “Our administration is acting with cold hearts and myopic vision.”
Alexis Palfey, a women’s track and field member and Student Athletic Advisory Committee member, spoke about the effects taking place at universities who chose to cut a similar program. Calling her teammates “family,” she noted instances where, if a men’s sport was cut, the women’s version saw a decline in enrollment as well.
“This competition is where I feel so blessed to represent my school along with my brothers and sisters who stand beside me,” she said.
Palfey also pointed to the team’s 2016 Community Service Award as evidence of their camaraderie and impact beyond the campus. She told therecord-online that the SAAC leadership presented a counterproposal to administration Monday, which included ideas to salvage the program, such as increases to the student activity fee (paid by all students), changes to boarding during overnight stays, investing in the growing marching band, hiring of additional admissions counselors for more recruiting, and returning to a two-college structure thus eliminating a Dean’s position, among others.
Communications professor Matt Girton also took a moment to speak on the idea of family, sharing some of his own experience. Born in Millville, Girton decided to attend the University of Southern California – and after traveling out west alone, he soon found himself making a new family.
“That family kept me in school … and that family keeps me coming back year after year. So what I’m fighting for here is that family that you see around you,” he said.
Girton questioned, if the school is struggling with enrollment figures, how cutting a sports program that brings “some of the finest students” to campus would help with that problem. He also said the administration’s current proposal would alienate alumni just as they are about to embark on a capital campaign.
Other event speakers included: LHU graduates Jack Felt, Andy Shearer and Matt Sauls; Mark Cloud, psychology professor; students Austin Heinbach and Kyle McKeown; and Josh Grimes, local entrepreneur and pastor at the Common Place Church.
University President Dr. Michael Fiorentino Jr. is expected to act on the proposal later in the week.