UWO men’s tennis finishes last season after 30 years

Morgan Van Lanen

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh said goodbye to the men’s soccer program earlier this school year after it was announced in spring of 2015 that it was being cut.

It is now time for UWO to say farewell to the men’s tennis program as well.

Junior Austin Laumb transferred to Oshkosh to play tennis after spending his freshman year of college at a small private school in Minnesota. He said he has no regrets when it comes to switching to be a Titan and he will miss playing more than anything.

“Well, it’s definitely an honor to play for UWO and it’s been the experience of a lifetime,” Laumb said. “Playing on this team has been the best time of my life and has given me memories I will never forget. I met some of my best friends on the team; our team is incredibly close and I’ve met some of the best people in my life through tennis.”

When Chancellor Andrew Leavitt and Athletic Director Darryl Sims announced the two programs would be phased out after this school year, they said it was due to budget cuts. However, men’s tennis head coach James Lewison said he could not find logic in this reasoning.

“I truly believe the reason for cutting the program was out of total lack of care for the program, and I think the Oshkosh community deserves to stop hearing about budget issues when the money from our program will be going to other more popular programs,” Lewison said. “A good example to show the disinterest by the chancellor and athletic department was that my group of guys wasn’t even invited to the athletics meet-and-greet in September. Wouldn’t you think that if the athletic department empathized with the tennis players, they would have invited my team to the event? There have been other instances similar to that where the team has not been included. But maybe the chancellor and athletic department are just trying to ‘practice’ not having the team next year?”

This is not the first time the administration has threatened to cut the men’s tennis program. Steven Francour, the head coach of both men’s and women’s tennis at Oshkosh from 1990 to 2013 and a previous tennis player at the University, said the same thing happened back in 2004.

“We had a meeting with Elliott Garb, the assistant chancellor at the time, and he told us, due to budget concerns, that tennis would be cut along with wrestling,” Francour said. “There was a lot of backlash, so they reversed the decision.”

Unlike many other sports at UWO, including both the softball and baseball teams who traveled to Florida, the men’s tennis program was not given any money by the athletic department to travel on a spring break trip in March, Lewison said earlier this year. According to Lewison, he and his players were especially frustrated with the situation given the circumstances of the longevity of the team.

UW Oshkosh’s Assistant Vice Chancellor Jamie Ceman stated the men’s tennis team spends $10,998 each year. This amount of money equates to 1.65 percent of the total athletic department budget, which consists of $665,080.

Tennis players and Lewison said they have been told the $10,998 will not be expired after this season. Rather, they have been informed the money will instead be added to other sports’ funds.

Francour said the actual amount of money that will be saved from cutting the team is insignificant.

“It’s like having a penny in your pocket and that penny falling on the ground,” Francour said. “It has no consequential value.”

Francour also pointed out how other UW System schools have not made drastic changes the way UWO has since Scott Walker cut UW budgets in 2015.

“The whole state system is under the same budget,” Francour said. “Yet, no other school to date has dropped a sport. It’s disappointing to think they could not have come up with a solution.”

The men’s tennis team learned about their fate during the 2015 tennis season when Daniel Bickett was still their coach. Bickett was the coach at UWO during the 2015 season, before accepting a position at UW-Green Bay.

Sophomore David Leffler explained Sims was the first person to tell the team it was being cut.

“Coach [Bickett] came up to us after practice one day and was like, ‘Hey, we have a meeting with Darryl,’” Leffler said. “And we thought we were in trouble for something. We walk in there and [Sims] immediately was like, ‘Guys, I’m sorry but your program is getting cut.’ I had no clue. I was so mad at that moment. It sucked.”

Leffler went on to list the reasons Sims gave for why the tennis team would not be able to compete following the 2015-16 school year.

“He said it was budget reasons, from the 7.5 million dollar budget cut from Scott Walker,” Leffler said. “But then to find out that it’s really going back into the athletic program probably hurt the most, knowing that [Sims] kind of lied to us right there. He just tossed up a bunch of different numbers, saying what our budget was. It was just a whole mess of information.”

Since then, the team has been given other reasons for the cut, like not being in a conference and Title IX.
Players and Lewison agree the lack of communication between them and administration has made this transition harder and more hurtful than necessary.

Mark Gorski, the father of sophomore Vincent Gorski, said from a parent’s perspective, the University is not taking advantage of a situation that could teach his son and other athletes valuable characteristics for the future.

“Each day my employees look to me to make good decisions that provide security and future growth for the company and employees,” Mark said. “Our leadership team bases our decision-making on the company mission. The UWO leadership team is failing and letting our future leaders down.”

Mark also believes the athletic department is not following its mission statement, which is: “The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics support and extend the missions of UW Oshkosh by shaping an environment that promotes excellence in student achievement, academic success and personal growth; and identifies and communicates the needs and concerns of student-athletes to the University community and beyond. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is committed to providing an equitable multi-sport athletic program for male and female students.”

“Nowhere in the mission statement does it state the programs should be in a conference that provides championship status or automatic qualifier status,” Mark said. “This sounds like the athletic director is reaching for reasons to support a poor decision that does not support the University’s mission statement. Sincehave the funding available from donations, why not keep the program going? By working with the team to teach them how to budget and plan instead of giving up, UWO could be known as an innovative university and could sustain this offering for many years to come.”

According to sophomore Jordan Anderson, he and his teammates were given no suggestions or recommendations from administration on steps of how to keep the program running.

“My first reaction after I heard that we were being cut was, ‘What can we do?’ and ‘How can we prevent it?’,” Anderson said.
“[The administration] really has given us no option. You would think that they would want to do everything they can to help prevent it, same as we do. But it seems like they’re doing everything they can to make sure that it stays cut, which is pretty backwards, in my opinion.”

Self-fundraising has been out-of-the-question since the beginning, sophomore Logan Zastrow said.

“[Administration] just [doesn’t] want to go back on their word,” Zastrow said. “There’s really no reason why we can’t fundraise for ourselves. There’s no downside to us bringing in more money.”

While all of this off-the-court drama could have gotten in the way of his players’ games and practices, Lewison said he is happy it did not. The head coach said he is proud of the way his athletes have treated the situation.

“There hasn’t been much drama at all which was surprising to me since I thought the guys might take out their frustration that the program was ending on me,” Lewison said. “We have worked a lot on mental game and taking one point at a time to avoid what I call the ‘snowball of frustration.’”

Overall, the Titans are 6-11 on the season. They are 5-4 at home, 0-3 away and 1-4 at neutral locations. Since they are conference-less, they do not have an overall conference record or a conference placing.

Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23 marked the last games that would ever be played on their home courts. On the 22nd, the Titans fell to UW-Whitewater 0-9 and on the 23rd they lost to both UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse 0-9.

The men’s tennis team will play their in their final game as a UWO program on Saturday, April 30 at Concordia University (WI).
For player Billy O’Connell, cutting the team has been a nightmare, but he is extremely thankful for even getting the opportunity to compete at UWO. After transferring from UW-Whitewater this year to UWO for the tennis program, he is happy to get just one year to play.
O’Connell, along with the majority of the team, will not be transferring to a different school to continue playing NCAA tennis. He and his teammates already have plans to live in a house together next year.

“We are making a club team next year,” O’Connell said. “We are always still optimistic that they could still bring it [the tennis program] back next year or the year after. We are trying to do some self-funding through the team. We think that this is our best bet.”

Michael Leffler, the father of David Leffler, said he wishes the 10 athletes the best of luck in their future endeavors.

“The University has made its decision,” Leffler said. “It adversely affects a lot of young men. However, I want to believe the athletic director and the chancellor did not make the decision on a whim. In life, we all have to learn to deal with adversity. Sometimes life does not seem fair, but we have to pick ourselves up and move on. I know these fine young athletes will demonstrate their strength of character, their commitment to UWO, and continue to achieve great things albeit off the court!”

As for Lewison, he is still searching for what to do next.

“I’ve been really privileged to be able to have a variety of interesting jobs,” Lewison said. “I would love the opportunity to coach another collegiate tennis team, although this team is setting a very high bar, with how easy it is to work with them.”