Chicago (CBS) — After UIC announced it was cutting its men’s and women’s gymnastics programs this summer, athletes and supporters have a plan to keep it alive.
Athletes said the school is not interested in year by year plans to fund the teams going forward. They’ve been asked to come up with cash for the long term – and it’s a lot.
Eating a Thanksgiving meal together is tradition for the University of Illinois at Chicago men’s gymnastics team, but it’s unclear how much longer traditions like it will continue.
“People know it’s different,” team captain James Marden said. “It’s always a little somber whenever we do something that could be the last time that we do that as a team.”
In a statement, the university cited costs and limited resources as reasons for eliminating the programs. Coaches said the decision will impact 11 female and 24 male athletes beyond this season. Until about two weeks ago, it was unknown if there was an alternative.
“The athletic administration has given us a number to raise in order to fully endow the men’s and women’s programs with full scholarships and that number is $25.2 million,” Marden said.
Team coach Charley Nelson worries they won’t be able to come up with the money before the March 15 deadline.
“We’d need some significant lead donors, and we don’t have that right now,” Nelson said.
Nelson believes letter writing campaigns and this past week’s plea to trustees could lead to lower fundraising expectations.
Last year, men’s gymnastics was the only sport representing UIC at the national championship.
But for now, the gravity of the financial needs is weighing on the two programs.
If this year’s Thanksgiving gathering is the final one as a team, everyone wants to at least finish the season without a bad taste in their mouth.
“We hope that 2019 is not it, but if it is, these guys are going out, and they’re doing it the right way,” Nelson said.
CBS 2 reached out to the university, but the athletic department said they had no further comment. The university is honoring all scholarships involved.
The final meet for the men’s program is scheduled for March 10. For the women’s program, the final meet is Feb. 24.