A sad article about my alma mater from Garrett Downing of the Athens News Campus Reporter:
Members of the Ohio University men’s track-and-field team threw their arms around one another’s shoulders and took one last lap around the track at Peggy Pruitt Field on Saturday. They joked and smiled as they came cruising past the finish line to the cheers and camera flashes of family and friends.
The victory lap provided a bright moment in a season that has been clouded with controversy and hardship. The Bobcats set aside the emotions surrounding the program’s final home track meet, and finished on top. The men concluded Saturday’s Ohio Open with a victory in the 4x400m relay, one of 13 first-place finishes on the day.
“It has been a roller-coaster ride emotionally,” senior thrower Eric Bildstein said. “We have done a great job considering the adversity we have had to face both physically and mentally.”
While the year has brought success to the program, including several new records and one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference, the athletes have competed with the always-present reminder that next season does not exist.
“It is rough,” senior All-American long-jumper Scott Mayle said. “Even though this is my last year, it is still rough to think about the rest of the guys that aren’t going to be able to run next year.”
Sporting shirts reading “I got Hocutt,” the student athletes took a final jab at Athletics Director Kirby Hocutt, who announced on Jan. 25 the decision to eliminate four varsity sports at the end of their 2007 campaigns. Along with men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, the administration also cut men’s swimming and diving and women’s lacrosse.
The administration has justified the cuts as necessary measures to comply with federal Title IX legislature and eliminate a growing financial deficit within the athletics department.
The financial situation is so grim that the university had to ax one of its most storied programs. Since its inception in the early 1900s, the track-and-field team has produced an Olympic medalist and several All-Americans, and won more individual national titles than any other OU varsity sport.
“You have to put that aside at a certain point because you can’t let your anger get the best of you,” Bildstein said. “You still have to relax and throw, run and jump the best that you can.”
With more meets left this season, including MAC and Regional championships, the team tried to muffle the emotions and focus on performance. But for the team to ignore the feelings of competing in a program’s last home meet is almost impossible.
“I’m sure that it is weighing on everybody’s mind,” head coach Clay Calkins said. “It is sad to see that this is going to be the last chance to do this.”
The seniors led the Bobcats in Saturday’s meet, as Mayle and Bildstein captured first place in three individual events. Dan Bailey, Austin Schiele, Logan Singleton, Curtis Leuenberger and Brad Hershey also earned first-place finishes. The 4x100m and 4x400m relays also finished in first.
Saturday’s success matched the strong performances that the Bobcats have been putting forth all season, demonstrating their resilience in the face of a strenuous situation.
“It really says a lot that we have been able to put all of that behind us,” Bildstein said. “This is one of the best teams that we have ever had, and I want everybody to see that. It just sucks that this is the last year that anybody is going to see us again.”
As the members of the men’s track and field team crossed the finish line for their final victory lap, it concluded the program’s historic run, leaving a legacy for others to admire.
“Hopefully people remember us for doing it right and finishing in the end, despite all of the things that happened,” Bildstein said. “No matter what, we were able to finish, and finish correctly.”