On Saturday morning, snow started to fall as a crowd of rowers gathered in Fairmount Park between the condemned East Park Canoe House and the tents the crew and rowing teams have used since 2008. About 100 student-athletes, alumni and supporters milled around, looking at trophies and medals that the programs have compiled in their history.
They came together for a rally they hope will help save the teams that are set to be eliminated in July 2014. Both crew and rowing were cut, along with baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s track & field. The athletic department said the money saved by the cuts will be reinvested into the remaining sports.
Multiple pictures were taken at the rally, including one with all the team’s medals hanging on the fence that walls off the boathouse. The atmosphere wasn’t that different from a family reunion. However, most families aren’t fighting to save the thing that brought them together.
“It was heartbreak, and I think that’s the best way that I can explain it,” Rachel Jordan, a former Temple rower who graduated in 2007, said. “This team had been my family for so long. I still row today, and I think rowing is such a big part of Philadelphia’s tradition. It was devastating to me, not just that I might lose some of my family, but that this opportunity wouldn’t be there for future Temple students.”
“My friends from Temple rowing will be my friends until the day I die,” Jordan added.
Jordan is one of a group of alumni who have taken an active role in protesting the cuts. She addressed the crowd at the beginning of the rally. There is a “SAVE TEMPLE ATHLETICS” Facebook group with about 4,600 members. Alumni said social media has been extremely helpful in organizing events like the rally.
“There was a really big Facebook chat with 160 names on it at one point,” Scott Waters, a 2011 graduate of Temple crew, said. “Facebook has generally been a very, very valuable resource because it’s one of the few ways everyone’s interconnected. People underestimate just how many alums are actually in this area from this program. If there’s something worth knowing, everyone will know within an hour or two. It’s been very, very easy to keep track of what’s been happening because everyone is invested in what’s going on.”
Waters is now an assistant coach for the men’s crew team at Bucknell. He said he was “speechless” and in “complete shock” when he found out the news of the cuts.
“My boss, the head coach, who rowed for Roman Catholic, saw his phone and said ‘I can’t tell you this. Look online,'” Waters said. “I saw a friend of mine on Facebook say ‘Did you hear the news from Temple?’ I just Googled ‘Temple University’ and I saw the article saying Temple was cutting seven sports.”
“At that point, I really didn’t know what to do,” Waters added. “I still had work to do that day, even though I didn’t really want to do anything. I got out of my desk chair and sat on the couch in the office and didn’t do much of anything for the next three hours.”
At one point in the rally, crew coach Gavin White addressed the crowd, telling them the next step will be to contact state representatives to see what they can do.
“One of the bigger issues has been a major cut in education and higher education funding,” Jordan said. [We will try to] talk to our representatives and to put pressure on the Board of Trustees to please reconsider this decision. I think with that is going to come some research and some think tanking.”
“Our central leadership have been formulating their approach for what they want to do,” Waters said. “However, at the same time, I feel like the powers that be, as in the president and the AD… I don’t think they really understand what these people are like. How we are. What this community really, really is. That’s something that’s not going to go away.”
Jordan gave credit to the alumni. She said the former rowers have diverse skills and resources and are passionate about the programs.
“We have such a strong base and we have so much capacity to feed off each other and build off of each other and to carry each other through this,” Jordan said. “We’re not getting apathetic anytime soon.”
“We’re strong believers in what this program is,” Lauren Fattori, a 2007 graduate of Temple rowing who now coaches at Archbishop Prendergast, said. “It’s devastating for me, being a coach for those high school women [and telling them] ‘You’ve got to go here. You’ve got to go here.’ All those reasons that Temple rowing is amazing, and now this is happening to them. They’re freshman and sophomores and juniors. We’re the ones that are really on board with them coming here.”
Waters said he is “extremely hopeful” in what the future holds for the teams.
“Without optimism, there can be no success,” Waters said. “But at the same time, whatever outcome there is, we’ll make the most of it and see to it that the kids here are able to get the experiences we had when we were at Temple.”
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.