Players and alumni try to Save our Titans

Erik Buchinger

The UW Oshkosh athletic department’s decision to cut the men’s soccer and men’s tennis programs has left former players and coaches disappointed. Scott Deopere, who played soccer at Oshkosh from 1997-2000, said he reached out to some of his former teammates on social media to share his thoughts. “We all take ownership in the program, so eliminating one of the most successful programs in the country for not very good reasons at all, in my opinion, is frustrating,” Deopere said. The athletic department released a statement on April 6 that said it will be cutting the men’s soccer and men’s tennis programs following the 2015-16 academic year due to the upcoming state budget cuts. Since the announcement, players have been vocal on social media with their opinions, and they have also created a Facebook page called “Save Our Titans.” “For something like this to happen and for how much passion we put into the program for all these years, it’s not going to be something we’re going to accept on face value without doing a little due diligence on our own and find out why these decisions were made and what we can do to prevent this,” Deopere said. Deopere was named the 2000 NCAA Division III Player of the Year and became the first Titan ever to be selected in a professional soccer draft in 2001. He said he would not have attended UWO without its soccer program. “I came to play baseball and soccer my freshman year in 1997,” Deopere said. “That’s the only reason I came to Oshkosh.” Deopere stopped playing baseball after his freshman year to focus on soccer and said former head coach Toby Bares made a big influence on his time at UWO. Bares started the UWO men’s soccer program in 1984. The Titans finished their first season 6-7, which was the only losing record in the team’s 32-year history, which includes four Final Fours. Bares said he will miss the connection between players and coaches on the men’s soccer team, including his former players. “A number of alumni have gotten in touch with me and asked about the scenario,” Bares said. “I was moved by the fact that it still matters to them. The concern they have for the current players and current coach made me proud. They have their hearts in the right place.” Bares said he did not set benchmarks of where he wanted the program to be at a specific time but wanted everybody involved with the team to give their best effort. “Our mindset was, ‘Let’s get in here and do the best we can every day, and at the end of the day, we leave no regrets,” Bares said. “If you have that focus, then you let results fall where they may.” Although Bares said he was disappointed that the program is being cut, he said he is satisfied with what the program was able to accomplish. “Fortunately for us, I was able to get some great players, and on the field we had some great success,” Bares said. Bares also said that as an educator it was important to him that his players do well off the field. “That, to me, is the beauty of Division III athletics,” Bares said. Bares retired from coaching in 2010 after his 26th year with Oshkosh. He now works for the UWO Student Recreation and Wellness Center as the associate director of operations and facilities management. Steve Francour played tennis at Oshkosh for four years and coached the men’s and women’s tennis teams for 23 years before leaving for the same position at Lawrence University in 2013. He said he went through a similar situation in 2004 when the athletic department discussed dropping men’s tennis and wrestling. “When I had this happen in 2004, I told the players that from here going forward, you don’t owe UW Oshkosh anything,” Francour said. “If you want to look to go a different school and want to make a different decision that way, please don’t feel like you have to stay loyal to me as the coach or to the University because they’re obviously not staying loyal to you.” The men’s tennis program has existed since the 1940s, and Francour said eliminating athletic programs essentially erases their existence. “When this happens, the teams are basically wiped from the University’s memory banks,” Francour said. “There won’t be any listings on the website. Everything that was accomplished in the past is just in the minds that participated in it. No matter what others try to do to keep it going, it just goes away.” Deopere was inducted into the 2014 class of the UW Oshkosh Hall of Fame last May and is a current account executive for the Louisville FOX television affiliate. He said he has used his soccer experience at Oshkosh to get to where he is today. “I don’t think there’s any question there’s all kinds of transferable skills when you’re under the leadership of somebody like Toby,” Deopere said. “I’ve fortunately been pretty successful in my career, and a lot of that I owe to Toby, UWO soccer and my teammates.” Deopere has been following the situation closely and said he likes how the current players are conducting themselves. “From what I’ve seen on the Facebook posts from some of the guys on the team currently, they’re unbelievably mature,” Deopere said. “They’re passionate, and they’re very pragmatic with their approach. They’re moving along smartly with some of the decisions they’ve been making.” Deopere said he would like to see transparency from the University. “I just hope the University, in particular Sims and Leavitt, are being transparent,” Deopere said. “We’ll find out soon enough.” According to Francour, men’s soccer and men’s tennis are not the only teams that will feel an impact from these cuts. He said a lot of potential recruits in other sports will be turned away, wondering if their sport will be next. “It’s not just the immediate sports that feel these cuts,” Francour said. “It just makes the athletic department as a whole have to answer way too many questions that they shouldn’t have to answer.”