As he sat alongside his teammates on the turf of the newly renovated Student Pavilion, junior track thrower Justin Berg hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on.
An emergency meeting, called during the middle of a study day, was certainly out of the norm. But Berg, like many of the other student-athletes who were in attendance on that rainy December afternoon, was not at all prepared for what was next.
As Athletic Director Kevin Clark began speaking and reality struck, Berg’s body began to tremble. He had seen this before.
Surrounded by dozens of crying and confused student-athletes, Berg tried to keep his emotions together. But as his eyes met senior captain Gabe Pickett, and the two exchanged a hug, Berg lost it.
“It’s happening again,” he thought.
After his previous school, Millersville, cut its track program in 2012, Berg found a new home at Temple. He competed during the 2012-13 season, earning the Owls five points during the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship with his hammer throw. Now, with Clark’s announcement that Temple will cut seven of its sports – including men’s indoor and outdoor track & field – Berg must transfer again if he wishes to continue competing at the collegiate level.
One of the first courses of action Berg took after Clark’s initial announcement of the cuts was to find his coach, Eric Mobley.
“I told him, ‘I can’t stop competing,’” Berg said. “It’s the reason why I left Millersville and it’s the reason why I’m leaving here.”
Mobley said he told Berg to keep his head up, although the sixth-year coach was distraught over the news.
“It’s a shame that he had to go through this twice in a row,” Mobley said. “But Justin is a great student-athlete. I think he handled it pretty well. He’s not dwelling on it, he’s just looking toward the future and trying to do what’s best for him and the program for the remainder of the year.”
Berg said he wants to continue his track career at another university and is in the final stages of transferring to Penn State after the spring semester. Berg continues to practice with Temple, although he plans to redshirt this season to give himself an extra year of eligibility.
“In a different era, I would have experienced an uninterrupted career,” Berg, a math and computer science major, said. “This wouldn’t have been a problem. That’s what is happening today. But three universities … that’s incredible.”
Pickett describes his teammate as a guy that’s usually to himself, which made his hug with Berg on the day of the announcement a “strong moment.” Pickett, already a leader on the team, said Berg has shown guidance to other student-athletes in the aftermath of the cuts being announced.
“He’s been really strong throughout the whole thing,” Pickett said. “He’s been a guy that a lot of people could look to when they need someone to talk to or need some help, because he’s been in this situation. He knows how to deal with it, and he knows the best steps going forward.”
Berg said he has emailed the coaches of the other teams, offering his guidance. Many at Temple, at least initially, felt a great deal of anger after the cuts were announced. Berg said he doesn’t find such feelings helpful.
“Anger isn’t the way to go,” he said. “You can be frustrated. But letting it get to you is going to bring you down.”
The track program at Temple seemed, to many on the team, as headed in the right direction. Travis Mahoney earned three NCAA All-American titles during a five-year career from 2008-12, becoming one of the most decorated student-athletes in the team’s history. This season, the coaching staff grew to the largest it has been in five years. A renovated weight room and recently hired trainers also brought new attention to the team.
“It made me feel like we were going up,” Berg said.
Come July 1, the program will be eliminated a year shy of its 90th anniversary.
Berg was not recruited to Millersville, and he initially was forced to go through a tryout process in order to make the team. Former Marauders coach Scott Weiser said Berg showed some physical attributes and signs that he could be a valuable thrower on his roster during that initial tryout session – enough for the Phoenixville, Pa., native to join his squad.
Throughout his freshman campaign, Berg began to prove himself. He tossed the fourth-best distance in school history at the indoor conference championships, and placed seventh in the outdoor championships later that year.
Weiser, who now works in the construction industry, said he has reached out to Berg following the news of Temple’s athletic cuts, and hopes his former student-athlete continues his career elsewhere. Weiser describes his own experience of athletic cuts as “getting punched in the stomach and kicked in the balls.”
“It really stinks that someone who went through this already has to do it again, but he’s put so much into it and really deserves to have a good experience,” Weiser said. “You fight this much, for this long … I’d hate to see the kid give up.”
“He may look back 20 to 30 years and regret giving up – just because someone can’t keep their finances in order,” Weiser added. “And that’s really the mess of it. Someone can’t keep their finances in order, and so they cut the team.”
Having been through this before, Berg said he believes the cuts are an opportunity for the team to come together and perhaps gain a new perspective on competing in track & field. During every meet this season, Berg wants his team to never forget that this is the program’s final season.
“It really makes you grateful for every opportunity that you get,” Berg said. “You’re more humble. People want to talk about entitlement in sports. You might not even think about it, but you might feel entitled to having your sport.”
“That gratefulness and humbleness that it can be taken away from you really changes your perspective,” Berg added. “You see how important the sport really is to you.”
There are a number of similarities between the situation Berg experienced in Millersville and the one he’s dealing with at Temple. Berg said there was a lack of transparency in both schools – he discovered the news of the cuts at Millersville through email. With the Marauders, Berg said the student-athletes came together and tried, unsuccessfully, to save their programs.
Likewise, many Owls aren’t giving up hope either. Most recently, a group was formed called the “T7 Council” to try and convince the Board of Trustees to reconsider the cuts. Petitions have been created and flyers have been handed out. Some are placing duct tape over the Temple logo on their apparel.
“The kids going out and getting those petitions, that’s fantastic,” Berg said. “It’s bringing people together, and it’s bringing notice to our school to show what’s happening.”
“It’s great to see everyone come together and all of the attention,” Berg added. “But from my first time, it wasn’t going to happen. And it’s not going to happen here … That’s really disappointing.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.