Over 1,600 people rallied at Pavilion Gym on Friday to support UCSB’s Exercise & Sports Studies minor as it faces extinction from the university’s budget crunch.

UCSB students, alumni and staff members assembled in the Recreation Center courtyard for the largest public protest on campus this year to demonstrate against the planned closure of the minor in June 2010. Officials say the minor’s discontinuation is meant to help alleviate the school’s unprecedented $45 million budget deficit, but supporters say the benefits of the program vastly outweigh the potential financial saving.

There are currently about 900 upperclassmen enrolled in the ESS minor who will be unable to receive their degree if the program is cancelled.

During the rally, the crowd consisted of a sea of supporters in yellow “Save ESS” T-shirts displaying signs with slogans such as “Chancellor Yang, Don’t Drop the Ball. Save Exercise & Sports Studies.” Event speakers discussed how the ESS Dept. changed their lives and shaped their experiences at UCSB. Former women’s head basketball coach, Mark French — who graduated from UCSB in 1967 with an ESS minor in coaching — said the department is invaluable to the university and community, providing over 75 volunteer coaches to Santa Barbara County every year.

“ESS is the only place on campus where you can take what you learn in the classroom and use it practically in the real world,” French said. “It’s the place on campus where students have a chance to research themselves.”

Steven Kochenderfer, a third-year communication major, is one of the many students who will be unable to complete the minor if it is closed.

“I love this program,” Kochendefer, who is attempting to finish the fitness instruction minor, said. “It would be a shame to take it away, especially when we have an obesity epidemic in our country. Studies have shown that exercise is the single most important factor in overall health.”

Moreover, Beau Katz, a fourth-year political science major trying for the sports management minor, said ESS classes have been the most influential courses of his college career.

“The termination of the ESS Department would be a great detriment to the UCSB student body and the greater Santa Barbara community,” Katz said. “The ESS minor courses provide over 200 internships per year that lead to careers in professional sports, health and fitness.”

According to ESS officials, the department costs approximately $900,000 a year to maintain, but secures the university $3.5 million in state funding. ESS professor Al Ferrer said students are right to demand the most bang for their buck, considering how much they pay for their education.

“If you are paying for a Lexus, you deserve a Lexus,” Ferrer said in his speech. “Until it is written in stone, we will continue to fight.”

The ESS Dept. also handed over 5,000 signed petitions to Chancellor Henry T. Yang at the rally, citing their plans to preserve the department.