UCSB gymnasts are fighting to keep the gymnastics program going after the athletic department announced in August that it would cut the program by the end of the academic year.
Students from both the men’s and women’s teams have until the end of the school year to either raise $4 million or transfer to another school with a gymnastics program. Both teams have been involved in fundraising, including appealing to Associated Students Legislative Council in its meeting last week.
“If I had known that the program was going to be cut earlier, I don’t know if I would’ve come to school here,” said men’s team captain Stephen Smith. “To me, the program is everything.”
Smith, a junior transfer, has a full scholarship to UCSB as long as he competes in the gymnastics program. Without the scholarship, he, along with many of the other gymnasts, likely will not be able to attend the university.
The men’s team and women’s team together cost $204,744 annually, which pays for grants-in-aid, salaries, insurance, training facilities and the operating budget. Athletic Director Gary Cunningham said there was not enough funding to continue the program.
The U.S. Olympic Committee helped fund men’s gymnastics but recently stopped its assistance. Last spring, the Big West Conference cut women’s gymnastics altogether, so the women’s team has been competing in the Mountain Pacific Sports Conference this season.
“We told [the gymnastics teams] there was no way we could keep the program the way it was funded,” Cunningham said. “If there was an endowment fund of $4 million, the teams would receive five percent of that money, and the program could continue.”
According to a statement from Cunningham released in August, UCSB has also had difficulty recruiting gymnasts from high schools because only a small pool of students compete at the high school level.
The team proposed a referendum to A.S. Leg Council, hoping other students and UCSB administration would provide support.
“Because raising $4 million is so unreasonable, we went to Associated Students, just hoping the chancellor will open his eyes,” women’s team captain and senior Jennifer Rudy said.
Smith agreed with Rudy, saying the price the school set is unrealistic.
“They set that amount because they knew we could never reach it,” he said. “They could cut our budget, which runs about $50,000, but they just need to keep the program.”
The program was only funded this year as a favor to the students in the program, and all scholarships will be honored until the end of the year, Cunningham said
“The only reason we kept the program was to give students the opportunity to have a year to choose what they wanted to do for the future,” he said. “We could have said ‘no’ this year, but we’re trying to be fair to student athletes.”
“We’re not planning on going ahead with the program,” Cunningham said. “The better schools don’t want to compete against UCSB.”
The women’s gymnastics team has faced many difficulties this year, including the death of Mari-Rae Sopper, the newly hired coach who was on America Airlines Flight 177 on Sept. 11. Injuries, which have prevented two members from competing, have also hurt the team.
Sopper’s parents have set up a fund in her name and are supporting the team fully. Sopper’s mother is flying to Santa Barbara for the next meet, hoping to attract more publicity.
“Mari-Rae’s parents have really been helping out,” junior Kristi Starr, a member of the women’s team, said.
The men’s team is also fundraising, as members are networking their CEO connections in hopes of a grant for $20,000 each year for the next several years.
“We’re really coming together under the circumstances,” Rudy said.
The women’s team will compete tomorrow night at 7 in Rob Gym against Cal State Fullerton.