Alumni react to team cuts at UWO

Sarah Zander

Several UW Oshkosh alumni and players have plans to attempt to save the men’s soccer program. Mark Pawlyshyn, Darren Gallagher and Peter Dillett are just a few from what Gallagher calls a small, elite alumni group of lawyers, doctors, bankers and businessmen. Gallagher, an Oshkosh soccer player from 2001-2004, and assistant men’s soccer coach from 2007-2009 said there are 200 to 300 active soccer alumni who are being updated on what is going on with their plans. “Our goal is to save UWO athletics because we believe soccer and tennis will not be the last cuts, and it worries us that one day in the future a 15,000-student University may only have six sports representing UW Oshkosh,” Gallagher said. Gallagher said he was angry and bewildered after hearing of the cut of the men’s soccer and tennis programs. “Now that I sift through information, data and procedure failures, I am disappointed in our leaders,” Gallagher said. “At the same time, I also believe there is hope because I know how strong our soccer alumni will be.” Gallagher said their plan is to make more people aware of the cuts and to spread the word about saving the programs. “We have assembled a group to not only save UWO soccer, but to save UWO athletics, which will unify all sports and all athletic alumni,” Gallagher said. “We know saving men’s soccer is not our only duty, it will happen to more sports if we do not act now.” Mark Pawlyshyn, an Oshkosh soccer player from 1988-1991 who earned several all-region distinctions and was inducted into the Titan Hall of Fame in 2010, said although the news of the cuts brought disappointment and sadness, he still feels optimistic. “We’re trying now as a group to push past the frustration,” Pawlyshyn said. “We’re now in the action stage. We’re really trying to find out what we can do as a group to collectively change their minds.” Pawlyshyn said if they can come together with a collective solution and a strategy to maintain and sustain the men’s soccer program, then that could collectively be used for other programs that are considered as sports or activities to be cut. “If we can create a successful model that shows we can maintain this through the help of the alumni as well as the community, that, to me, would show a lot about the school and whether they’re solution driven or not,” Pawlyshyn said. Pawlyshyn said he believes they are and it’s just a matter of sitting down with Chancellor Andrew Leavitt and Athletic Director Darryl Sims. “It would be a learning experience for all of us to share some insight on how we can help partner with the University,” Pawlyshyn said. “I believe it’s in their best interest as well to show that they value their alumni.” However, Leavitt said he has no plans to sit down with alumni. “We have to work on moving on with this,” Leavitt said. “We have made the decision to end these two sports after next year, so at this point, revisiting the options and seeing how we could continue to support it, still doesn’t change the basic premise that these sports do not have access to a conference championship, and that is the criteria we are using to determine our sports array.” Leavitt said fundraising is not the way to fundamentally support a program and referenced the men’s golf team being cut from UWO in 1991. “There was an opportunity given to men’s golf to fundraise their next season, which they did, but by the end of that season, the alumni weren’t interested in continuing to fund it,” Leavitt said. Leavitt said he’s not suggesting that would be the case for soccer, but their decision was based on criteria relating to conference participation. Pawlyshyn said although these cuts have created a negative situation, the reaction from the alumni group has been extremely positive and filled with passion for the program and the sport. “At the end of the day I think that’s certainly a win for us,” Pawlyshyn said. “It’s a kudos to the University that they’ve created a great academic experience and I’m hopeful we can leverage that to help save the program.” Players have also taken to Facebook and Twitter to start a “Save Our Titans” campaign, and a website is in the works, according to Pawlyshyn. Nicholas Woodbury, a sophomore on the UWO soccer team, said he wants everyone to know that this fight isn’t over. “We are so thankful for all of the support we have received and want everyone to know that we won’t give up until every possible avenue has been explored,” Woodbury said.