A lot of people have asked me during the past few weeks what I was thinking when Jim Miller told us soccer was no more. Was I angry? Was I empathizing with my team; the quivering lips and bloodshot, teary eyes of my underclassmen teammates? Did I even care, being a role-player on his way out anyway?
To be honest, my thoughts were on 2007, when I first watched a Richmond Spiders soccer game. It was my older brother Russell's first game at the University of Richmond, and in front of 2,432 drum-beating, horn-blowing fans, I watched Richmond win, 2-1, over Villanova, a team that would beat the number-one team in the country just two games later. It was lively. It was fun. It was something I wanted to be a part of for years to come.
The Spiders were destined for greatness that year, but it wasn't a big deal. That's just who they were. They were supposed to win the A-10 and maybe even make a run in the NCAA tournament. And now, here I was facing Jim Miller, five years, two stadiums, three coaches and two Himeleins later, being told that as of 2013, that would never be a possibility ever again.
As sports editor for The Collegian and a player on the men's team, I've always tried to keep my loyalties in order. I would never tell The Collegian about certain facets I may have known of athletes' personal lives, but also never shamelessly promote my own team in my section. Minus a column graph or two, I think I've done a good job of toeing that line. That was until two weeks ago.
I can no longer sit on the sidelines for this one. I can no longer keep quiet about the complete and utter mishandling by my university over something I've kept an eye on since I first transferred and walked-on to play soccer here in 2010.
When Clint Peay first told me I made the team my sophomore year, it was hard to control my excitement and not tell just about every person I met in my classes.
"We have a soccer team?" I constantly heard back. Not really the welcoming I was expecting. What happened to the 2,432 rowdy soccer fans?
In my first year at the University of Richmond, not much about the program made any sense. Why was it that we were getting cast off to Ukrop Park, 20 minutes off-campus while Robins Stadium stood to be used by only one team? Not a single advertisement went up for our games. Not a single shuttle-service was provided to get willing fans back and forth. We came a game away from making the A-10 tournament that year, and I'm not sure whether anyone on campus even knew.
That spring, I wrote an article on the varsity club lacrosse team for my feature-writing class. I had a couple of buddies on the team and did my best for them to figure out whether they would be getting the call up to Division I anytime soon. Most of my interviews left me empty-handed. Lori Schuyler, chief of staff for President Ayers said: "This is just the first year of varsity club status, so speculation about a move to Division I status would be premature." Athletic Director Jim Miller said: "The status of that sport [lacrosse] I think is kind of a 'wait and see' whether it's going to be a varsity NCAA sport on campus or remain a club sport for a while."
But the most foreboding quote turned out to be from Tom Roberts, who oversaw the varsity lacrosse team from the Recreation Center. "I think nobody has stepped up and is ready to fund it. No one has stepped up and said we need to cut this program and make room for men's lacrosse," he said. Interesting. And to think it was right around that time Timmy Albright, Nick Buler and Oliver Murphy were committing to four years of Spider soccer.
The year and a half since then has been a whirlwind of controversy and drama. The team members' excitement to return to campus my junior year was replaced by crestfallen disappointment when we found out we'd only be playing five games in Robins Stadium, two of which would be during fall break. So much for 2,432 fans. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, our alumni fought for us. In 2011, they had the highest percentage participation among Richmond sports alumni. They drew up a charter and set a defined number of goals. They were there for us when our administration wasn't. They wanted us to have a field. They wanted us to have resources. And our department ws unwilling to meet them halfway. They made no effort to communicate.
I guess it was right around this time, last spring, that lacrosse was decided on and soccer simply faded into the rear-view. And to think, it was right around this time Mitch Reavis, Chris Hill and Brandon Jordi were committing to four years of Spider soccer.
I write this because I can no longer stay neutral. I write this because I can no longer remain sports editor for The Collegian. I don't see how I can remain objective covering a university administration and athletic department that claim to believe in "the value of collaboration, transparency and teamwork" and "the value of community engagement and the importantce of citizenship and service."
So I come to you now, not as a journalist, but solely as a proud member of the men's soccer team. I come to you to tell you Ed Ayers, Jim Miller and whoever else will listen that there is a difference between 'under resourcing' a team, as you put it, and completely and utterly neglecting and betraying it. This indiscretion cannot stand against my teammates and brothers, who've fought so hard to represent the crest on their jersey, who've turned down scholarships and opportunities all over the country, just to be here.
I invite you to think long and hard about your decision. I invite you to come out this Friday night to see what this program truly means and can be for years to come. I invite you to come see through your neglect and through your absence that we will still push on. Our alumni will still fight on. And our fans will come in masses, surely to surpass a measly number like 2,432.