Players wear hearts on sleeve

Haley Walters

Men’s soccer players Matt Cheaney, left, and Jonathan Stanley, right, wear black armbands to tell UWO they have not given up fighting for their program.
[/media-credit] Men’s soccer players Matt Cheaney, left, and Jonathan Stanley, right, wear black armbands to tell UWO they have not given up fighting for their program.

When the UW Oshkosh men’s soccer team takes the field for the remainder of its 2015 season, the players will be wearing black armbands to raise awareness for a program on the verge of collapsing. The armbands are a grassroots effort thought up by players on the team to show the University and fans that soccer isn’t giving up the fight to save their program just yet. “They picked the wrong sport, the wrong head coach and the wrong alumni base to mess with,” UWO men’s soccer player Matthew Cheaney said. In the soccer community, black armbands are commonly worn by teams who are mourning a death or other tragic event. The men’s soccer team said it is still reeling after the University announced its decision last spring that its program would be cut, citing budget concerns, no conference and other compounding factors. “[The bands] were a team decision,” UWO men’s soccer player Javier Simon said. “We wanted to make a statement to keep in the back of everyone’s minds that we are doing our best to save the program. I threw the idea out there, and we all agreed on it.” The bands aren’t being used to fundraise; they are purely meant to raise awareness and convey respect for the fledgling program. Team members split the $250 cost to get 27 bands printed. “It’s extremely unfair they have to fight for this program that is recognized regionally, statewide and nationally as one of the best,” UWO men’s soccer coach Wyste Molenaar said. The team said the armbands have done what they were intended to do, and the feedback they’ve received has been positive. “When we played against [College of] St. Scholastica, they definitely asked us about them,” Cheaney said. “After the game they came up and asked questions about it. A lot of the St. Scholastica team is from the UK and they were sad to see their country’s sport was being ended here.” Other teams at UWO have shown interest in wearing the armbands as well. Men’s cross country wore the bands last weekend during its meet in Winneconne. “I think it is important to give our student athletes from all teams the chance to voice their opinions and support,” UWO men’s cross country coach Eamon McKenna said. “It is always disappointing and unfortunate when sports, programs [and] opportunities for our young people get cut, and I think this is a small way in which some of our cross country athletes were able to demonstrate support for their fellow Titan athletes.” The men’s soccer team said it asked its competitors to wear the armbands, but Molenaar said other programs are hesitant to make a statement on the field. “Some people from other programs are apprehensive of speaking out publicly, which is totally understandable,” Molenaar said. “Privately, many people have expressed their support for the program. We’re not looking for anyone to lose their job over this. At the end of the day, the team just wants to be a part of UWO.” Although some schools have apprehensions about the armbands, teams have shown their support in other ways. When the team versed Wheaton College, players initially agreed to wear the armbands, but their coach thought they could pose too much of a distraction. “We understood why they didn’t want to wear them,” Cheaney said. “After the game, we all circled around center field, and they prayed for us, prayed for our team and that the decision would get reversed.” Simon said the team hasn’t ruled out using the armbands as a fundraising effort if there is enough interest among the student body, and fans to justify ordering more. “We’re not opposed to ordering more,” Simon said. “If there were a lot of interest, we would order more and try to spread the word. Right now, they’re just for the field.” Cheaney said the team plans to continue focusing on the remainder of its season and schoolwork before shifting its efforts to saving the program. The team is currently 10-3-2, and as of Oct. 20, it is also third in its conference. “The guys aren’t just fighting to do well this season, they are also fighting for what they believe in and their program,” Molenaar said. “They’re proud to be Titans and want to be part of the athletic family.”