For much of the past five weeks, Joe DiPietro has been afraid to pick up his phone.
“Every time I got a text over winter break, I expected it to be another athlete telling me she’s leaving,” DiPietro, head coach of Temple’s softball team since 2008, said. “And they had every right to do that.”
Instead, DiPietro watched as a close-knit group of student-athletes – a group that already “spends more time at the seniors’ houses than they do their own dorms,” he said – elected to remain together as a squad for one final season, partly to show Temple’s administration what it will be missing come July 1, when it will lose its varsity status. The softball team was cut along with six other non-revenue sports on Dec. 6.
Although many of the players are looking to transfer after this semester, DiPietro said his “core” is staying for the season, with the exception of two players who transferred to Temple in August, Jaymi Bautista-Geiger and Taylor August. Both elected to transfer again before the season began.
“They just wouldn’t leave each other,” DiPietro said of the remaining players. “They decided that they’re going to go out there to prove to everybody that they are a team, and they’re a team that cares a lot about each other.”
Temple’s softball team, as well as the other student-athletes and coaches, was not given prior warning that any cut was imminent. Both DiPietro and team captain Stephanie Pasquale had heard rumours as late as October that Temple was actually planning on renovating the softball team’s squalid batting cages, which boast gravel turf and dilapidated netting, Pasquale said, calling the cages a “catastrophe.”
DiPietro said he discussed the possibility with Athletic Director Kevin Clark.
“I find it kind of odd that we were hearing rumours of new batting cages as late as October,” DiPietro said. He added that through his team’s fundraising efforts – separate from Temple’s athletic budget – the softball team has been able to renovate much of its stadium on its own, including building a press box and adding seating.
“When I hear, ‘It’ll cost a ton to renovate,’ I don’t believe that,” DiPietro said. “We have the nicest facility in Ambler because I fundraised to do it.”
A donor had been in line to help update the team’s batting cages, but was let go after the team was cut, DiPietro said.
Last season, Temple won a school-record 32 games, hit 94 home runs to lead the country and held a team grade point average of 3.25. The team has had the highest women’s GPA at Temple for three straight seasons.
While the team is upset about the cuts, it took a bigger issue with the way the announcement was handled by the administration.
“I walked up and asked [Clark] politely, ‘Excuse me, sir, may I please speak to you one-on-one?’” freshman centerfielder Toni Santos said. “He put his hand in my face, and said ‘I can’t, I have another meeting,’ and just kept walking. And this was after he told us that he would answer any questions. I was in tears.”
Despite the fact that it has been more than a month since the announcement, the team is still searching for answers.
“These kids feel like they [should] matter, instead of just being looked at as dollar signs,” DiPietro said. “They’re not looked at as human beings. They’re devastated because they can’t get any answers.”
In the meantime, underclassmen have been forced to weigh their futures. Sophomore infielder Kelsey Dominik said she spent her vacation visiting schools in order to transfer in time for the 2015 season.
“I’ve been under so much stress trying to make a plan for my future,” Dominik said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at Temple the same way.”
“Since I’m a junior, I’m not going to transfer to a different school to play softball or anything,” pitcher Jessica Mahoney said. “So next year I’ll be a senior, and I’m just going to be a regular student. I’ve definitely thought about what I’m going to do now that most of the team’s going to be gone. I’m not really sure, to be honest.”
As for DiPietro, his vision for his own future remains unclear.
“The coaches are the ones that really get the short end of the stick,” DiPietro said. “The players have the ability to transfer, while the coaches don’t have that.”
DiPietro, a resident of Mount Laurel, N.J., said he is unsure as to how he’ll make mortgage payments once the season ends.
“I may have to collect unemployment for the first time in my life,” DiPietro said.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.
Don McDermott contributed reporting.