Sports

For walk-ons, a dream deferred after sports cuts

Without a team or athletic scholarships, walk-ons face adjustment of transitioning out of sports.

Freshman walk-on Rachael Braccia could barely contain her excitement when she found out she made the women’s rowing team last semester.

“I can tell you that I listened to the song ‘On Top of the World’ for 24 hours straight,” Braccia said. “I was in my dorm dancing around. I was telling people I didn’t know, ‘Hey, I’m on the rowing team!’”

Braccia’s journey began when a table advertising the team caught her attention on Liacouras Walk during Welcome Week. After calling her mom, a former high school rower, she attended a general interest meeting, where she said she was intimidated by the other girls.

“I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it, but then I heard [coach] Rebecca [Grzybowski] talk,” Braccia said. “If she’s telling me that I can do this … for some reason I just trusted her right away.”

Braccia is one of many walk-ons affected by the recent athletic cuts. While student-athletes on scholarship still have the advantage of keeping their award, those who walked-on will lose their status as a student-athlete on July 1.

Some coaches choose to split allotted scholarships among multiple players – including rowing and men’s gymnastics. However, those that don’t receive scholarships make up a notable part of the rosters; the baseball team has 10, and 48 of the women’s rowing team’s 59 athletes were not initially offered scholarships.  Like Braccia, 36 of those walk-ons were novices, having no rowing experience prior to joining the team.

Although they lack academic scholarship, sophomore softball walk-on Gina Pellechio said walk-ons get the benefit of being on a team.

“It’s just something that I love so much,” said Pellechio, one of the team’s seven walk-ons. “Everyone on the team shares the same goals. We are all so passionate about the game and about winning.”

Pellechio, who began with teeball at age 4, said she knew she wanted to go to Temple since she was in sixth grade. She thought Division II schools were a more attainable goal, but after attending softball camps and proving herself to coach Joe DiPietro, she made the team.

“I never planned on going D-I. I was always looking toward D-II,” she said. “This was like a dream come true for me.”

The announcement of the cuts was a sharp contrast to that elation, Pellechio recalled.

“Our team was the first team in there,” Pellechio said. “We were all in there, joking around. As soon as we found out what it was about, we were all in complete shock.”

Post-cuts, Pellechio said DiPietro and the other coaches have been doing everything in their power to assist the players in transferring if they are interested. Two softball players have already done so. Pellechio said it’s an option she’s considering.

“I can’t imagine being in college and not playing,” Pellechio said. “Even though I love this school, I don’t know if I’d want to stay there knowing that we don’t have a team anymore. It wouldn’t be the same. All my friends would be gone. It’s definitely something that I’m thinking about.”

Braccia said talk of transferring is swirling around her team, too.

“It comes up in conversation,” Braccia said. However, she said something is more prevalent in her mind. “Spring season comes first.”

Referencing her team’s motto “last one, fast one,” Braccia said her teammates – walk-ons included – are trying to maintain an upbeat attitude for the upcoming season.

“We believe that it’s not our last season, but we’re working like it is,” she said. “We’ve been practicing like all 60 of us are seniors. We are trying to stay so positive about it.”

Jenelle Janci can be reached at jenelle.janci@temple.edu or on Twitter @jenelley.

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