State Board of Agriculture hears personal appeals to reinstate the Univ of Southern Colorado wrestl

By Gary Abbott | June 13, 2001, 12 a.m. (ET)
DENVER, COLO. - Over 40 supporters of the Univ. of Southern Colorado wrestling team appeared in support of the program during the general meeting of the State Board of Agriculture, which was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Denver, Colo., Wednesday, June 13. The State Board of Agriculture is the governing body of the University of Southern Colorado, Ft. Lewis College and Colorado State University. On Tuesday, May 16, the Univ. of Southern Colorado President Tito Guerrero III, announced that USC would be dropping its very successful NCAA Div. II wrestling program effective immediately Although the USC wrestling issue was not on the official agenda, the Board allowed the group 20 minutes to discuss the decision to drop wrestling. Four individuals, including a number representing the "Community in Support of USC Wrestling," made a personal appeal to the Board on behalf of the USC wrestling program. To open the session, Reginald L. Washington, President of the State Board of Agriculture, addressed the group. Washington told the wrestling supporters that the decision on the wrestling team would be determined by the university itself. "The position of this Board is that this is an institutional issue," said Washington. "The Board has been concerned about budgetary issues at USC. The latest remedy of this is the solution to eliminate wrestling. That was an institutional decision. The Board is not required to approve this decision. We will take this into consideration in our role overseeing the management of the university." Tito Guerrero III, the President of USC, who is leaving in a few weeks for a new position at a university in Texas, next presented his reasons for the decision to drop wrestling. "The decision to eliminate wrestling was not made quickly or easily," said Guerrero. "It is not one that I wanted to make. After three years of budgetary shortfalls, we could not afford another year in the red." "We looked at many alternatives," he continued. "We could not eliminate a women's sport because the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference requires five women's teams. We have five now. We could not drop soccer, because it is required by the conference because we do not have football. We thought about baseball, but they have an endowment. Through the process of elimination, wrestling was the choice. Golf and tennis did not have large enough budgets to make a difference. Wrestling was the only one that would offer the budgetary savings that we need." "We had to produce a balanced budget to present to this Board today," said Guerrero. "We have extended the offer to honor the dollar value of their athletic scholarships if they choose to continue at USC. This is not something I wanted to do. I would have wanted somebody else to do it. But I have a fiduciary responsibility to this Board and community to produce a balanced budget. As things stand now, we will not be able to accommodate wrestling. If those conditions change, and we may hear more today, perhaps we can consider adding it back." At this time, the four speakers for the wrestling community were given an opportunity to speak. All four provided eloquent and moving personal testimonies about the value of wrestling to them and the community, and why the decision to drop wrestling should be immediately changed. Speaking first was Jimmy Ray Zeigler, a USC graduate and former wrestler, who is the current head coach at Northwest Community College in Wyoming. Ziegler spoke about how the decision impacts the athletes and students on campus, and the personal cost of losing the program. "As a graduate and former athlete, I was deeply saddened to hear the news," said Ziegler. "I have spent the last month analyzing the situation. I am trying to find reasons and justice about this. I have looked at the athletes and students affected. On a college campus, most decisions are based upon economics. Isn't our declining enrollment at USC a bigger concern? This decision will eliminate students, alienate alumni and anger thousands of wrestling fans and families." "I look at the program as full student development," he said. "What I remember are the guys and what we learned together. I remember that every member of our team was a first generation college student. We were all sizes and backgrounds, black, white and latino. None of us came from wealth or privilege. We got an opportunity for education through wrestling. Today, these are the teachers, coaches, politicians, educators, accountants and others who use at their jobs everything that they learned in the wrestling room." Next was Dan Carlson, USC graduate and community leader who is heading the "Community in Support of USC Wrestling" effort. Carlson presented a plan, produced by his grassroots committee, that would include community fundraising to cover costs for the program, as well as an endowment effort. Carlson asked the Board to support the reinstatement of the team for at least one year, while the community raises funds and executes a plan to save the program into the future. "I live and work in Pueblo," said Carlson. "As a citizen of Pueblo, I look at the university as a resource for the community. We are all in agreement that the university is not going in the direction that benefits the businesses and the people of Southern Colorado." "I am looking at the timing of this decision," he continued. "Apparently, they have known about the problem for several years. The timing of the decision did not allow for discussion of alternate ways to do this. They did not consult with the students, consult with the faculty and consult with the community. We will raise money for wrestling. It will take some time. We can't put together $2.3 million by July 30. That is unrealistic and inappropriate." "By dropping wrestling and losing these students, we are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to cut a $99,000 budget. That is not a good business decision in my mind. The wrestling program is one of the best marketing tools that we have. Wrestling brings thousands of kids on campus for tournaments, from ages 6-18, with their mom and dads, for three or four days at a time. This is brand awareness for USC. The Community in Support of USC Wrestling is not here to battle USC and throw mud. We want to help. We want to work hand-in-hand with USC. We want to see the decision reversed." The next speaker was State Representative Abel Tapia (D-Pueblo), who spoke about how the decision hurts the community in Pueblo and what wrestling means to the citizens there. He told a number of stories, including the compelling personal story of assistant coach Dax Charles, and how his involvement with USC wrestling transformed his life and changed the city. "He is the perfect example of what a connection of education and opportunity can create," said Tapia about Dax Charles. "I grew up in Pueblo," said Tapia. "I always felt it was a basketball and wrestling town. People felt that the rest of the state would find all that they wanted competing in Pueblo. We have developed some great athletes. These are not country club kids. They work very hard. Wrestling is the most demanding and structured sport there is. In Pueblo, we can look to the university and see national champion wrestlers. A lot of these students would not go to college if not given the opportunity. They can stay here in Pueblo and achieve their goals." "In Pueblo, we support things that are close to us," said Tapia. "If the people know, they will come out and help. There is a window of opportunity for us to rally. I am confident that we in Pueblo will rally to that charge, by showing support for the wrestling community and the university. We are here to step up to the challenge. If you give the wrestlers a year to prove themselves, you won't be disappointed." The final speaker was Jack Maughan, the head coach at the Univ. of Northern Colorado and the president-elect of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Maughan gave a perspective of the value of the USC program to the state, and why the university should change its decision. "You have given me the chance to s